- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

America’s Catholic bishops flatly rejected the Obama administration’s latest attempt to accommodate religious objectors to an Obamacare rule that requires employers to cover birth control as part of their health plans.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops submitted comments Wednesday in response to the Health and Human Services Department’s decision in August to let faith-based hospitals, universities and other nonprofits cite their opposition to covering certain contraceptives directly to the government, instead of insurers or third-party administrators.

Under the proposal, federal health officials would coordinate with insurers to make sure the employees get contraceptive coverage.

But the bishops’ lawyers, Anthony Picarello and Michael Moses, said the latest accommodation is not good enough. Echoing other critics of the new offer, they said nonprofits will still be complicit in facilitating contraceptive coverage, and that an exemption for houses of worship should be extended more broadly.

“Religious organizations that fall on the non-exempt side of the religious gerrymander include those which contribute most visibly to the common good through the provision of health, educational and social services,” they wrote.

The contraception rule has been a major flashpoint on Capitol Hill and in the federal courts, where dozens of nonprofit and for-profit entities have sued the administration, citing in particular their religious objections to insuring forms of birth control they equate with abortion.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court in June said closely held corporations do not have to comply with the mandate if they object on moral grounds, because the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 forces the government to compel behavior in the least restrictive means possible.

The contraception mandate did not overcome that hurdle, five male justices decided.

Responding to the decision, the administration suggested that corporations abide by the first accommodation it extended to nonprofits, in which employers inform insurers or administrators of their objections. From there, the insurer would pay for and manage the birth-control aspect of coverage.

In their comments, the bishops’ lawyers say this proposal would erode a hard-won exemption.

“The proposed rules would make the current situation worse for closely- held for-profit organizations with religious objections to contraceptive coverage,” they said. “Currently, such organizations are exempt from the contraceptive mandate under RFRA, as Hobby Lobby holds. The proposed rules would again subject them to the mandate by means of the ‘accommodation.’ “

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