US Church agencies cautious on latest HHS mandate

Catholic agencies in the United States are cautious about a new “accommodation” for religious institutions that object to covering contraception and abortion services in their employees’ insurance plans.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment on the Obama administration’s latest modification to the Health and Human Services mandate that many Catholic employers are challenging in court.

But other organisations defending plaintiffs in some of the 44 current legal challenges to the HHS mandate said the modifications would not help most of their clients.

Significantly, the Catholic Health Association, which a year ago expressed initial support for the Obama mandate, offered no endorsement of the administration’s latest proposal.

Under the latest proposal, Catholic dioceses will probably be exempted from coverage by the HHS mandate. Catholic hospitals, social agencies and universities will not — though the administration proposed other ways to provide the required benefits without any direct financial or administrative involvement by objecting religious non-profits organisations.

The government’s plan is to allow Catholic hospitals and universities to offer employee health plans that do not directly provide free contraception and other “preventive services” for women.

Employees or insured students who wanted contraceptive coverage would be able to arrange it through outside insurance companies, at no cost to themselves and without financial or even administrative support of the faith-based institution.

For-profit companies and non-profits that do not have an explicitly religious mission, such as pro-life organisations, could not avail themselves of this stand-alone policy.

Yuval Levin, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, said in a National Review Online post that that new proposal “betrays a complete lack of understanding of both religious liberty and religious conscience.

“Religious liberty is an older and more profound kind of liberty than we are used to thinking about in our politics now. It’s not freedom from constraint, but recognition of a constraint higher than even the law…. It’s not the right to do what you want; it is the right to do what you must.”

National Catholic Register

Catholic News Service

National Review Online

Image: Salon

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