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ERLC: Latest HHS rules fail again

WASHINGTON (BP) — The Obama administration has issued new rules regarding its abortion/contraception mandate but again appears to have failed to satisfy the concerns of religious freedom advocates.

A division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Friday (Aug. 22) the latest revision of the controversial regulations, which require employers to provide for their workers not only contraceptives but drugs and devices that can potentially cause abortions. It is the eighth revision of the rules, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

In a fact sheet accompanying the new regulations, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said the rules provide a new option for notification by non-profit religious organizations that object to the mandate. The non-profit may notify HHS in writing of its religious objection. In response, the federal government will notify the insurer or a third-party administrator it is responsible for providing employees of the non-profit with payments to cover the services.

CMS’ fact sheet also says proposed rules have been published to expand an accommodation for “closely held,” for-profit companies, such as family-owned businesses. The two approaches for defining such an entity that has a religious objection are described this way in the fact sheet: “Under one approach, the entity could not be publicly traded, and ownership of the entity would be limited to a certain number of owners. Under an alternative approach, the entity could not be publicly traded, and a minimum percentage of ownership would be concentrated among a certain number of owners.”

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) was among the organizations that found the latest HHS revision unsatisfactory.

“Here we go again,” ERLC President Russell D. Moore said in a written statement. “What we see here is another revised attempt to settle issues of religious conscience with accounting maneuvers. This new policy doesn’t get at the primary problem. The administration is setting itself up as a mediator between God and the conscience on the question of the taking of innocent human life.”

Moore added, “When it comes to these contentious issues I don’t necessarily expect those who disagree with us to ask, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ But, in this case, asking ‘What Would Jefferson Do?’ would be a good start.”
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).