HHS ‘compromise’: “80 pages of nothing new”

The basic mandate that employers with religious objections to the HHS contraceptive coverage still have to comply or pay punitive fines still stands. The latest fig leaf changes little, but it took a few days to wade through the dense and convoluted legalese the government issued to essentially say ‘we’re not willing to budge, more than an inch.’

There is nothing new about the administration deciding who gets exemptions and who doesn’t, and that’s the main point.

After nearly a year, the Obama administration released, on February 1, its latest version of a “compromise” with the employers who object, on religious grounds, to the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that their health plans cover no-cost access to sterilization services and contraceptives, including those that can act as abortifacients, destroying the early-stage embryo.

As many observers have already remarked, there is nothing substantively new in the administration’s proposal, which only formalizes and fills in details of a proposal it first floated last March, and continues to be based on the same dubious science.

Now facing more than forty lawsuits initiated by colleges, charities, and other religious nonprofits, as well as by for-profit companies whose owners have religiously informed moral objections, the Obama administration may hope that its latest gambit will persuade some credulous judges to toss some of the litigants’ cases.

But in truth, it has only revealed its own blinkered and tyrannical understanding of religious freedom, which it would sacrifice to a goal of “gender equality” that is at best only tenuously related to its free-contraception-for-all policy. And, if the judges attend closely to its arguments, it may even have severely weakened its case.

Well that’s interesting.

Matt Franck makes a good presentation there at Public Discourse on what this alleged compromise actually does. And he wraps it up with a challenge to the reader to do this thought exercise:

Given its stated hostility to any serious understanding of our first freedom, the right not just to worship but to live one’s faith in all one’s daily work, on what understanding of our remaining constitutional freedoms can the administration assure us that any of these other liberties still stands on a firm foundation?

Good question.

Also at Public Discourse was this well-reasoned and extraordinarily well presented analysis.

With last Friday’s rules, the government is claiming that after a year of a mostly losing record of religious freedom lawsuits, it has struck the perfect balance between two urgent goals: getting contraception into the hands of as many American women and girls as possible, and protecting Americans’ religious freedom.

The truth of the matter is quite different.

There are myriad problems inherent in the new rules. They still fail to protect the legally guaranteed religious freedom of religious institutions, for-profit employers, insurers, non-religious non-profit organizations, and individuals. Religious liberty is protected not only by the First Amendment of our Constitution, but also by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They fail to understand the full nature of the free exercise of religion—that religion, whether practiced individually or by a group, requires being able to integrate one’s actions with one’s religious beliefs, especially when these don’t attack but advance the common good—here, the health and well-being of women and girls.

They trample on parents’ constitutionally-protected right to direct the upbringing of their daughters. And they reveal, still, an irrational zeal for a narrow category of drugs and devices, thus evincing a narrow and harmful understanding of women’s freedom as coincident with sexual expression.

Moreover, while the government tries to make us think that the new rules are hospitable to religious freedom, we shouldn’t overlook its continued failure to admit the bankruptcy of the mandate’s grounding “medical” claim: that unintended pregnancy is a kind of health crisis properly resolved with free contraception and early abortions.

Thank you, Helen Alvare, for such a sound argument.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the US bishops conference, said this latest attempt for cover is still unacceptable.

The Administration’s proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries. It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education, and Catholic charities. HHS offers what it calls an “accommodation,” rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our Church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches. And finally, it seems to take away something that we had previously—the ability of an exempt employer (such as a diocese) to extend its coverage to the employees of a ministry outside the exemption.

(The bishops’ document) United for Religious Freedom explained that the religious ministries not deemed “religious employers” would suffer the severe consequence of “be[ing] forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions.”After Friday, it appears that the government would require all employees in our “accommodated” ministries to have the illicit coverage—they may not opt out, nor even opt out for their children—under a separate policy.In part because of gaps in the proposed regulations, it is still unclear how directly these separate policies would be funded by objecting ministries, and what precise role those ministries would have in arranging for these separate policies.Thus, there remains the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities…

 the bishops explained that the “HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all:individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values.”This includes employers sponsoring and subsidizing the coverage, insurers writing it, and beneficiaries paying individual premiums for it.Friday’s action confirms that HHS has no intention to provide any exemption or accommodation at all to this “third class.”In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath.We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.

Because the stakes are so high, we will not cease from our effort to assure that healthcare for all does not mean freedom for few.Throughout the past year, we have been assured by the Administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage.We remain eager for the Administration to fulfill that pledge and to find acceptable solutions—we will affirm any genuine progress that is made, and we will redouble our efforts to overcome obstacles or setbacks.Thus, we welcome and will take seriously the Administration’s invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all.At the same time, we will continue to stand united with brother bishops, religious institutions, and individual citizens who seek redress in the courts for as long as this is necessary.

For now, this remains necessary.

The cases proceed through the courts, and the latest HHS proposal is likely a response to a DC Circuit Court judge who required the government to report back on what ‘accommodations’ it was making that it had promised would be forthcoming. This does not suffice, say Becket Fund attorneys representing the most cases against the federal mandate.

Today’s announcement of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the HHS mandate leaves the religious liberty of millions of Americans unprotected.

“Today’s proposed rule does nothing to protect the religious freedom of millions of Americans. For instance, it does nothing to protect the rights of family businesses like Hobby Lobby,” said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.  “The administration obviously realizes that the HHS mandate puts constitutional rights at risk.  There would have been an easy way to resolve this—expanding the exemption—but the proposed rule expressly rejects that option.”

Becket Fund Executive Director Kristina Arriaga sent out this press release:

We’re all still reeling from the Administration’s announcement on the HHS Mandate last Friday, which, as it turns out, is 80 pages of nothing new.
 
The Administration’s proposal is murky on the details – in fact, it’s not at all clear how this would work, if it could work at all; but it’s clear that it still fails to protect our nation’s 237-year guarantee of religious liberty for millions of Americans.
 
As I mentioned in my email to you last Friday when the Obama Administration released this proposal “respecting the concerns of some religious organizations,” – their words, my emphasis – the millions of American entrepreneurs who want to live their lives and run their businesses with their faith intact are not covered even a stitch by this proposal.
 
They are still forced to choose between their conscience and their livelihood.  These entrepreneurs are winning big in court – 11 wins for businesspeople of faith to just 3 for the government –  yet the Administration still refuses to accept that religious liberty is even at issue in these cases.
 
So, as far as the Becket Fund is concerned, the fight against the HHS Mandate is far from over…

The government seems to have been so intent on defining religious liberty as narrowly as possible that they’ve drafted a convoluted 80-page proposal riddled with half-baked ideas and vague accounting schemes.

And, finally, says Helen Alvare

…these proposed regulations show the government’s standing obsession with this narrow piece of the Affordable Care Act. From August 2011 to today, the White House and HHS have expended enormous amounts of time, written hundreds of pages of rules and amended rules and “safe harbor” provisions, occupied press conference time, re-election campaign ads, and delivered speeches—all to promote the notion that free contraception and early abortifacients are the near sum of women’s freedom.

It’s as clear, and offensive, as that.

Post-election reckoning

Now that there’s been another week for the election results to sink in, more writers are taking stock of what happened, and there’s an interesting juxtaposition of views on social issues going on. Just as there was during the heat of the campaigns. Was it, is it, better to emphasize them, or de-emphasize them?

Austin Ruse vents in this opinion piece.

I wonder if these folks experienced the same campaign as the rest of us? Exactly when did Mitt Romney campaign, I mean really campaign on the life issues? What ads did he run? Perhaps they were thinking of the Romney ad meant to quell pro-choice concerns, the one telling folks they shouldn’t worry because he still favored abortion for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother? And perhaps these conservatives could show us the ads Romney ran supporting historical marriage, because I missed those and I live in what was one of the hottest of swing states, Virginia.

I might be able to understand these comments if Romney had actually run as a social conservative, but his race was first, last and always about the economy, smaller government, lower taxes, things to warm the cockles of almost any fiscal conservative. But where and when did he actually campaign as a social conservative?…

Romney did say he would defund Planned Parenthood but he never said why. He could have pointed out that there are several thousand Title X clinics not connected to Planned Parenthood that do everything Planned Parenthood does except abortions. He could have pointed out that Planned Parenthood raises a billion dollars a year and in time of fiscal crisis perhaps our money is spent better elsewhere. He could have said Planned Parenthood does not do mammograms no matter what they say. He could have said losing federal funding would hardly close Planned Parenthood down. But he didn’t say any of these things.

The decision not to run a campaign on social issues was made at the top and was ruthlessly imposed all the way to the smallest of campaign events…

Whether Team Romney knew it or not, there were three straight up pro-life votes in the states this time around. Two of them passed including one in liberal Massachusetts. And while it’s true historical marriage lost for the very first time in at least three states, in each of these very liberal states, pro-marriage forces ran ahead of Romney at the polls.

Here’s the thing. Most young people are pro-life. Most young women are pro-life. Most African-Americans are both pro-life and pro-family. These are three of the demographic groups Obama went after and won. Talk to African American pro-lifers. They were aching to help Romney but Romney was not interested in them. And they are livid. Team Romney left lots of voters behind who were eager to help and now the pundits blame them for Romney’s loss.

All along there was a war over women and it was fought exclusively by Barack Obama. There was a campaign run on the social issues but it was run exclusively by Barack Obama. Mitt Romney ceded the entire ground of the moral issues to Barack Obama and he ran right over Mitt Romney and his timid advisers.

Time to toughen up. Because some groups that seized the opportunity to advance their version of social issues are waging a scorched earth campaign to take new territory.

For the first time in its history, a United Nations agency, UNFPA, has declared access to contraception “a human right.”

“Family planning is a human right. It must therefore be available to all who want it,” declares the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) annual report. “But clearly this right has not yet been extended to all.”

The report calls on nations of the world to fight “cultural barriers,” as well as legal constraints, that cause women to forgo the use of birth control.

“What is to stop the UNFPA from declaring that abortion is a basic ‘human right,’ as they have already attempted to do several times, especially in light of the relentless UN drive to legalize abortion all over the world?” ask Brian Clowes, director of research for Human Life International, in an e-mail to LifeSiteNews.com.

The report does not explicitly call for abortion legalization. However, it considers “emergency contraception” a human right, stating it “is not effective once implantation has begun and does not cause abortion.” However, the report adds, “A single emergency contraceptive pill, when taken within up to five days after unprotected intercourse, prevents a fertilized egg from implanting.”

Therefore, it is an abortifacent. A fertilized egg is terminated, which means newly conceived human life is ended, aborted.

That’s what the battle over the HHS mandate is all about. And there’s a new setback in that, too.

The owners of Hobby Lobby asked to be exempted from providing the “morning after” and “week after” pills on religious grounds, arguing this would violate their Christian belief that abortion is wrong.

Judge Joe Heaton of the U.S. District for the Western District of Oklahoma denied the request for a preliminary injunction…

The Food and Drug Administration lists the “morning after” and “week after” pills as emergency contraceptives. But abortion opponents like the Green family consider them abortion-inducing drugs because they are often taken after conception.

Early in his administration, President Obama gave a talk to a group of men at a church over Father’s Day weekend, exhorting them to be responsible to their families, reminding them that ‘fatherhood doesn’t end at conception.’ He had it right then. Conception means a man and woman have conceived a child. If only he would remember that basic truth now, and make that a social issue worth talking about again.