(SM Chavey, Liberty Headlines) The Department of Health and Human Services drafted a rule that would exempt religious organizations — like the Little Sisters of the Poor — from the contraceptive and abortion-pill mandates issued by the Obama administration.
“The United States has a long history of protecting individuals and organizations with objections based on religious beliefs or moral convictions from requirements imposed in the regulation of healthcare. These interim final rules expand exemptions for religious beliefs and moral convictions for certain entities or individuals whose health plans may otherwise be subject to a mandate of contraceptive coverage…” the draft said.
In addition to religious organizations, the draft also allows other employers who are morally or ethically opposed – even those at for-profit businesses – to reject the birth control mandate. Religious organizations who would like to keep this “accommodation” would still be permitted.
In October, President Trump promised to defend religious liberty and those affected negatively by the HHS mandate. Last month, during a National Day of Prayer event, he reaffirmed that vow and signed an executive order to promote it.
“Faith is deeply embedded into the history of our country, the spirit of our founding and the soul of our nation. We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced,” Trump said at the event.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said he welcomed the opportunity to reexamine the mandate.
“Religious liberty is our country’s first freedom. Americans of faith play a vital role in caring for our most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly and the poor,” Price said in a statement following Trump’s executive order. “We will be taking action in short order to follow the President’s instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees.”
The Little Sisters of the Poor have been some of the strongest advocates against the contraceptive mandate for the past five years. Following Trump’s statement, Sister Constance Veit said they may be finally nearing the end of the struggle.
The Little Sisters of the Poor would lose $70 million a year for refusing to comply with the Mandate — an impossible amount. The proposed draft would free the Sisters — as well as other organizations such as Notre Dame and Catholic television network EWTN — from this obligation.
The Supreme Court has ruled on the contraceptive mandate five times, each in favor of defending religious liberty. The draft rule would be in line with these five decisions.
“The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of our Congregation repeatedly and yet the previous administration would not grant us an exemption from the HHS Mandate,” the Little Sisters said on their website.
A number of organizations have already objected to the proposed draft, including the National Women’s Law Center, which says it will sue if the draft becomes official. Senator Patty Murray of Washington, along with 13 other Democratic senators, sent a warning letter to the White House budget director.
“Women saved more than $1.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs for birth control in 2013 alone,” the senators said in the letter. “Access to affordable preventive services, including contraception, is a critical part of women’s health care.”
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel with Becket, a nonprofit law firm representing the Little Sisters, said “the writing has been on the wall” for a while now.
“Better late than never,” Rienzi said. “At long last the United States government acknowledges that people can get contraceptives without forcing nuns to provide them. That is sensible, fair, and in keeping with the Supreme Court’s order and the President’s promise to the Little Sisters and other religious groups serving the poor.”