Six Things Everyone Should Know About the HHS Mandate

Confused at all about the whole “contraception/sterilization mandate” or the bishops’ opposition to it? 

That’s not surprising — it is a pretty complex topic. In coming weeks, we’ll be doing our best to provide you with the most accurate and clearest information about it. 

Let’s start with this excellent primer put together by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, media relations director at the U.S. bishops’ conference, on the six main things you should know about the regulations from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): 

1. The mandate does not exempt Catholic charities, schools, universities, or hospitals. These institutions are vital to the mission of the Church, but HHS does not deem them “religious employers” worthy of conscience protection, because they do not “serve primarily persons who share the[ir] religious tenets.” HHS denies these organizations religious freedom precisely because their purpose is to serve the common good of society — a purpose that government should encourage, not punish. 

2. The mandate forces these institutions and others, against their conscience, to pay for things they consider immoral. Under the mandate, the government forces religious insurers to write policies that violate their beliefs; forces religious employers and schools to sponsor and subsidize coverage that violates their beliefs; and forces religious employees and students to purchase coverage that violates their beliefs. 

3. The mandate forces coverage of sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs and devices as well as contraception. 

4. Catholics of all political persuasions are unified in their opposition to the mandate. Prominent Catholics who have long supported this administration and its health care policies have publicly criticized HHS’s decision. 

5. Many other religious and secular people and groups have spoken out strongly against the mandate. Many recognize this as an assault on the broader principle of religious liberty, even if they disagree with the Church on the underlying moral question. For example, Protestant Christian, Orthodox Christian, and Orthodox Jewish groups — none of which oppose contraception — have issued statements against HHS’s decision. 

6. The federal mandate is much stricter than existing state mandates. HHS chose the narrowest state-level religious exemption as the model for its own. That exemption was drafted by the ACLU and exists in only 3 states (NY, CA, OR). And even without a religious exemption, religious employers can already avoid the 28 state contraceptive mandates by self-insuring their prescription drug coverage, dropping that coverage altogether, or opting for regulation under a federal law (ERISA) that pre-empts state law. The HHS mandate closes off all these avenues of relief. 

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