Church leaders welcome leaked HHS draft lifting contraceptive mandate

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) — A leaked draft rule from the Department
of Health and Human Services exempting religious groups from the contraceptive
mandate of the Affordable Care Act was welcomed by church officials and
attorneys representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of the groups that
challenged the mandate at the U.S. Supreme Court.

William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee
for Religious Liberty, said in a June 1 statement that the leaked draft has “yet to be formally issued
and will require close study upon publication,” but it provides encouraging news.

“Relief like this is years overdue and
would be most welcomed,” he said.

The archbishop noted that if the ruling is issued it would “lift the
government-imposed burden on our ministries to violate their own teachings
within their very own institutions.” 

He also said the draft of the HHS regulations reflects common sense and a long-held practice of the
federal government to provide strong conscience protection in the
area of health care.

late than never,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel with Becket, the law
firm representing the Little Sisters of the Poor. “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.”

125-page document leaked to the press May 31 — and under final review by the
White House Office of Management and Budget — details objections to the Affordable
Care Act’s requirement that employers cover contraceptives in their employee
health plans despite their moral objections to such coverage.

It would
leave in place the religious accommodation created by President Barack Obama’s
administration for nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and
social service agencies that are morally opposed to contraceptive coverage and
can file a form or notify HHS that they will not provide it. The draft rule also would broaden this exemption to cover employers with religious or moral
objections to providing coverage for some abortifacients. The new rule also
makes it clear that insurers may issue separate policies to women whose
employers are exempt from the mandate.

draft rule says it is attempting to “better balance the interests in preventive
services coverage to the extent imposed through the ACA along with the
interests throughout federal law to protect individuals and organizations with
religious beliefs and moral convictions.”

points out that the final rules are effective on an unnamed date and that written
comments on these final rules will be invited and must be received 60 days
after the rule is published in the federal register.

communications office at HHS did not respond to a Catholic News
Service June 1 request for comment.

signing an executive order on religious freedom May 4 at a White House
ceremony, President Donald Trump told some of the Little Sisters of the Poor in
the crowd: “Your long ordeal will soon be over.”

year the Supreme Court sent the cases including the Little Sisters’ back to the
lower courts, expressed hope that both sides might be able to work out a
compromise. The ruling cleared the slate from their previous court rulings where
five appeals courts had ruled in favor of the contraceptive mandate and one
ruled against it.

Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops, who met with the president just prior to the ceremony where
he signed the executive order, said the order “begins the process of
alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate,” but he also stressed
that the U.S. bishops will “have to review the details of any regulatory

the HHS rule was leaked May 31, a number of organizations announced that they
will fight it in court.

Becket statement also noted more work will need to be done if the HHS rule goes
into effect, pointing out that “further legal action will still be
necessary to wrap up the challenges to the prior version of the mandate.”

Archbishop Lori similarly noted that the U.S. bishops “look forward to
the final version of the regulations with hope that they will remain strong.”

“At that time, we will analyze those
regulations more carefully and comment on them more formally,” he said, stressing that the church’s goal is to “protect both the conscience of individuals and our
mission of sharing the Gospel and serving the poor and vulnerable through our

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Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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