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Land: Mandate ‘accommodation’ not enough

WASHINGTON (BP) — The Obama administration’s effort to satisfy religious freedom concerns regarding its contraceptive/abortion mandate is a failure, the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity wrote in a new letter.

The administration’s proposed amendments to a rule implementing the controversial mandate “do not adequately address the issues of conscience violation and religious freedom” in the original regulation, Richard Land wrote in a June 15 letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote to the federal agency in response to a request for comment on proposed changes to a rule regarding the coverage of preventive services under the 2010 health care reform law.

The Obama administration announced in January it would require health insurance plans to cover as preventive services contraceptives, including ones that can cause abortions, and sterilizations.

When religious organizations and religious liberty advocates protested the mandate and the lack of a sufficient exemption for those with moral objections, President Obama announced in February an accommodation that could make insurance companies responsible for paying for the protested coverage.

Critics said the move did not solve the problem, but the administration included the accommodation in the proposed amendment to the rule in March.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce a decision on the fate of the health care reform law and, by extension, the contraceptive/abortion mandate before the end of June.

The mandate and the recommended amendments “continue to violate the religious freedom of both individuals and organizations,” Land wrote in the letter. “In effect, the government’s proposed actions have shown an intolerance of our Christian beliefs and worldview.”

The administration should repeal the mandate, but, at a minimum, it “should expand conscience protections to cover any organization or individual who may have a religious or moral objection to covering, providing, or enabling access to these services,” Land wrote. “Failure to do so would be considered by many Christians a wholesale rejection of our constitutional rights and religious freedom.”

Land described three objections the ERLC has to the proposed changes:

— The religious exemption from the mandate remains too narrow and likely will keep religious organizations from providing health care.

— The “accommodation” enabling religiously affiliated employers to transfer coverage of contraceptives to their insurance companies does nothing to resolve the moral objection for such employers.

— The proposal does not exempt self-funded health care providers -– such as GuideStone Financial Services of the Southern Baptist Convention — from the mandate.

Because of these violations of religious freedom, Land urged the administration “to expand religious exemptions to cover all people and institutions with conscience claims against these drugs, devices, and services.”

If not changed, Land said, the restrictive religious exemption will force objecting employers to select “one of three untenable options:”

— Obey the law, which would violate their consciences;

— Stop providing health coverage, which could force employees to violate their consciences in obtaining insurance and open the employer up to government fines.

— Provide coverage without obeying the law, which could bring government fines for employees covered under a noncompliant plan.

“All those whose consciences are violated by this mandate will be forced to choose between paying for these products and services, whether they use them or not, or leaving their families uninsured and paying a government fine,” Land wrote.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).