Conservative and religious organizations on Friday slammed proposed changes in Obamacare that would let only faith-based groups — but not companies or nonprofit groups that operate on religious principles — opt out of providing contraceptives.
“This latest version of the contraceptives and sterilization mandate remains unacceptable,” Dr. David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical Association, told LifeNews.com
. “Since when does the government get to pick and choose which groups will get to enjoy First Amendment protections?
“Our founders intended the First Amendment to protect every American’s freedom to act according to one’s conscience,” Stevens said. “They didn’t specify that only groups deemed religious will be afforded this protection; freedom of conscience applies equally to all Americans.
“It would appear that the administration is trying to diffuse the pressure from federal courts around the country by throwing a sop to religious groups,” Stevens added. “If administration officials think that this action will somehow cause us to back down and accept the terms of surrender, well, that’s just not going to happen.
“We all plan to stand united in the fight to ensure that everyone’s First Amendment freedoms of religion and conscience are protected,” he said.
Kyle Duncan, general counsel for The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, told LifeSiteNews.com, “Today’s proposed rule does nothing to protect the religious liberty of millions of Americans.”
The Beckett Fund is representing several groups in lawsuits against the mandate, including Hobby Lobby, a Christian company that filed suit last September. More than 40 lawsuits have been filed over the contraception mandate.
“The rights of family businesses like Hobby Lobby are still being violated,” Duncan said.
On Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that large faith-based organizations, including hospitals and universities, could now provide healthcare plans under Obamacare that do not directly provide contraceptives.
But their health insurers would automatically enroll employees in a third-party individual policy, which only provides contraceptives, free of charge.
Obamacare, known formally as the Affordable Care Act, requires most employers to provide health insurance that includes contraception, including sterilization, as a free preventive service.
The original rule exempted only those religious groups — churches, for instance — that primarily employ and serve people of their own faith.
But other religiously affiliated groups, including universities and Catholic Charities, had to comply with the rule.
And Roman Catholic bishops, evangelicals and some religious leaders lobbied strongly for a broader exemption, the Associated Press reports.
The Catholic Church prohibits the use of artificial contraception. Some evangelical denominations permit the use of birth control, but others object to specific methods such as the morning-after contraceptive pill.
President Barack Obama had promised to change the birth control requirement so insurance companies — and not faith-affiliated employers — would pay for the coverage, but religious leaders said more changes were needed to make the plan work.
The proposed change announced on Friday does not accommodate individual business owners or other nonprofit organizations that object to the rule on religious grounds.
It is tantamount to the Obama White House deciding which organizations are faith-based and which ones are not, critics contend.
“We’re extremely disappointed that the Obama Administration does not respect the religious beliefs of all Americans,” Francis Manion, senior counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, told LifeNews.com. “This country’s laws and Constitution protect the religious freedom of all Americans, whether organized into religious bodies or not.”
ACLJ, a pro-life legal organization that focuses on constitutional law, is representing four companies that have sued over the mandate.
“Religious believers who simply want to conduct their businesses in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs have the same right to religious liberty as everybody else,” Manion said.
“Regardless of whether insurance companies or third-party administrators use their dollars for an employee's free … contraceptives, the provision of these drugs and devices still necessarily depends on the religious employer's health insurance plan,” the Family Research Council said in a statement.
“They remain the gateway for drugs and services to which they object.”
The council said the proposed changes still violated the Religious Freedom Act and the Weldon conscience amendment, which bans HHS from engaging such discrimination.
And the Heritage Foundation
called the proposed regulations “another sorry episode in a line of bureaucratic tweaking and unfulfilled promises that again fails to address the serious religious liberty problems caused by the coercive HHS mandate.
“In short, only the precious few employers who are deemed religious enough by the Obama Administration would be afforded true protection of their religious freedom and the ability to live and act according to their beliefs.”
Meanwhile, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, told LifeSiteNews: “Once again, President Obama’s so-called ‘compromise’ is unacceptable. Religious and moral freedom is not up for negotiation.
“There must be no religious ‘test’ by the government as to who, and what type of entities, are entitled to a conscience,” she added. “We demand respect for non-religious entities such as the Susan B. Anthony List that recognize the taking of human life is the antithesis of health care.
“The only acceptable outcome is the complete repeal of the HHS mandate and the restoration of a thriving marketplace where Americans can choose healthcare coverage consistent with their beliefs,” Dannenfelser said.
“The Obama Administration's blatant attempt to mislead Americans by announcing a so-called 'update' that fails to protect faith-based institutions clearly shows his intent to trample the religious liberties of Americans,” Penny Nance, CEO of the Concerned Women for America, told Newsmax in a statement. “Requiring employers affiliated with the Christian faith, like Concerned Women for America, to include free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in their health insurance plans is contrary to both Judeo-Christian doctrine and constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.
“When religious groups and individual Americans are forced to deny their deeply held religious convictions, it is not called ‘balance,’ it's called ‘tyranny.’ Faith-based institutions continue to pay for their Judeo-Christian convictions. As much as President Obama would like us to believe this is a ‘women's rights issue,' this is really a religious freedom issue.
“The simple fact remains, nothing has changed,” Nance said.
Several Catholic organizations, however, were somewhat measured in their response.
“Today, the Administration issued proposed regulations regarding the HHS mandate,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement to Catholic Online.com.
“We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.”
But Bill Donohue of the Catholic League told Catholic Online.com:
“The rules proposed today by HHS appear to go a long way toward rectifying the most problematic provisions of the mandate. Essentially, the rules provide insularity for Catholic institutions: They will not be directly involved in providing health insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.”
“Perhaps the most welcome aspect of the new strictures is the elimination of the criteria that define what constitutes a religious institution. Gone altogether is the highly objectionable definition that excludes an exemption for those religious entities that hire and serve mostly people of other religions.
“The new rules now simply revert to the established understanding of a religious employer as defined by the IRS,” Donohue said. “This makes eminently good sense.”
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