The HHS mandate: Assessing the current situation and looking to the future
On January 20, 2012, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) finalized its August 2011 mandate requiring virtually all employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including long-lasting injections and implants, and so-called morning after pills. Depending on the circumstances, these drugs and devices can cause abortions. The mandate went a step further by effectively reversing previous exemptions to such mandates based on conscience or religious grounds.
Strong opposition to the mandate was immediate. Religious leaders and Americans of all stripes correctly saw the mandate as a violation of the consciences of individuals and of the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the US Constitution. The Catholic Church, whose various entities have hundreds of thousands of employees, was at the forefront of the opposition to this unprecedented intrusion of the federal government into such matters.
While President Obama must have anticipated opposition from the US bishops and faithful Catholics, he may have been surprised to find that even the “progressive” Catholics who helped to elect him in 2008 were against the mandate. Faced with increasing opposition from conservatives and liberals, from people of faith and non-believers, and even from the secular media, the President sought to placate the opposition. He also sought to regain the support of “progressive” Catholics.
A meaningless accommodation
With the help of a trade association called the Catholic Health Association of the United States of America (CHA-USA), the Obama administration reached what it believed was a workable solution. On February 10, 2012, the President approved and confirmed the mandate, while giving religious institutions an extra year to comply with its demands. At the same time he promised that he would allow an accommodation before the date for compliance by religious institutions. This “accommodation” was simple: insurance companies, and not the religious employers, would cover these immoral practices free of charge. It was claimed that the cost of the contraceptives and sterilizations would be offset by savings associated with unwanted pregnancies that would now be avoided.
However, as common sense and cost analysis conducted by insurers concluded, this projection is absurd. There would likely be additional costs and certainly no savings. With or without increased costs, all employers will pay premiums for the entire insurance package and, therefore, be forced to provide drugs and procedures in violation of their conscientiously held beliefs.
A mixed reaction to the accommodation
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and faithful Catholics, together with thousands of other religious leaders and their congregations, restated their opposition to the mandate and to the promised “accommodation.” But the President dismissed their concerns, knowing that his anti-life, anti-marriage, and anti-family policies had already permanently alienated these groups.