The Obama administration has asked the public to find a solution to the almost-five-year legal battle over the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that all people with health insurance pay for abortifacients and abortions.
Even though the Supreme Court has outlined to the government what the answer to this controversy is, HHS bureaucrats apparently want to drag the conflict out even longer. They have ordered a 60-day public comment period—not one in which the public comments on a proposed solution, but one in which the public offers a solution.
Basically, the administration is asking you and me to do the job that bureaucrats should have done five years ago. Happy to oblige. And I hope you are, too.
It’s time for everyone to tell federal authorities as clearly as possible: don’t make religious non-profit groups violate their faith by forcing them to help make abortion-causing drugs available to their employees.
Some Backstory on This Mandate
Starting in late 2011, faith-based organizations began to file lawsuits against what came to be known as the HHS mandate. Priests for Life, the group I lead, brought the fourth of what are now more than 50 such actions nationwide. Ultimately, seven of those cases, including Priests for Life’s, were consolidated under the title Zubik v. Burwell and heard by the Supreme Court in oral arguments last March.
At issue was the government’s edict that religious charities, schools, and other organizations must take the first step in making all federally approved methods of birth control—including drugs and devices that can cause abortions—available to their employees through their health insurance plans.
A big problem with this scheme: it attempted to tell religious organizations how they could practice their faith—and if they didn’t bow to the government’s interpretation of their beliefs, they would have to pay fines that would severely curtail or end their missions.
In May, the Supreme Court vacated the lower court rulings that sided with the government. It ordered the seven Zubik cases back to their respective circuit courts of appeal with specific guidance. The justices wrote that “the parties… should be afforded an opportunity to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans ‘receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.’”
The court noted that both the government and religious groups have stipulated in legal briefs that a “feasible” solution is at hand. That solution would allow religious groups “to do nothing more than contract for a [health insurance] plan that does not include coverage for some or all forms of contraception.” In other words, the justices have stated that objecting faith-based organizations should not have to initiate or otherwise be complicit in providing drugs and devices that their faith teaches are evil.
Just Stop Forcing People to Do What They Think Is Wrong
Further, the Supreme Court wrote, “The Government has confirmed that the challenged procedures ‘for employers with insured plans could be modified to operate in the manner posited in the Court’s order….’” This means the administration already knows how to achieve what it wants without punishing religious groups.
What we have, then, is a situation where the Obama administration needs to be told—again, but this time by the public—that it can work directly with insurance companies to offer birth control sponsorship to employees of religious non-profit groups. There is no need for the heavy hand of government to intrude on the free exercise of religion.
Priests for Life has a webpage that explains the government’s new “Request for Information” regarding the HHS mandate. On it, we offer help with how you and other interested people can respond to that request. You can send your views to the administration via email, regular mail, express or overnight mail, or hand delivery. Easy and detailed directions for each method are included on the webpage along with background videos, talking points, and articles I’ve written over the course of the HHS mandate struggle.
It’s especially important to keep in mind that the public comment period ends on September 20, 2016. All submissions must be received by the government, not just postmarked, by that date.
Believers need to voice their opinions in this long battle. Federal law and our nation’s long tradition of respect for religious beliefs affirm that there is no need to delay a positive solution to this all-too-long and needless fight.