Florida Religious Groups Say Revised Obama Abortion Mandate Still Falls Short
Around the State
On Friday, the Obama administration published its final version of a controversial contraception-abortion mandate on all religious employers, and Florida's religious liberty activists say it still falls short of key First Amendment protections.
“Not a whole lot is new, it's a lot of the same-old, same-old,” Emily Hardman, communications director at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, tells Sunshine State News. “It doesn't solve the religious conscience problems because it still makes our nonprofit religious organizations gatekeepers to abortion.”
-- It forces nonprofit religious charities that are not connected with a house of worship to provide employees with insurance that covers contraception, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs, which the Obama administration claims constitutes “preventive health care.”
-- Self-insured religious groups are required to hire administrators that pay for abortifacients and contraceptives.
-- For-profit business owners who object to these drugs and procedures are not eligible for any exemption
The final version of the mandate extends the deadline for compliance from Aug. 1 of this year to Jan. 1, 2014. Employers who do not comply with the mandate by that date will be forced by the Obama administration to pay up to millions of dollars in fines.
"It's shameful, just shameful,” Bill Bunkley, who represents the Florida Baptist Convention on the Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (of which he is also president) tells SSN of his first impressions after having skimmed the new rule, which runs to 110 pages. “We had 400,000 comments [from concerned citizens] that went in, an unprecedented number of comments that got sent in on this rule and as far as I can see it looks like they were quickly discarded, dispatched to the trash bin, because for all the promises and all the rhetoric, nothing much has really changed.”
When the rule was first proposed in 2011, it only offered exemptions to houses of worship and to charities that predominantly hired and served members of a particular sect. A February revision eliminated the last two requirements, but still restricted the exemption to charities that were affiliated with a house of worship. Catholic and Evangelical Christians have insisted that most of their religiously-affiliated charities do not meet this qualification.
“It's almost like the president and his people have taken a pair of scissors and cut out the religious freedom language of the First Amendment,” Bunkley says. “Men and women of faith must really take note of what's happening here. What some would call it the religion of the Left is going to take way the rights of faith-based individuals unless they wake up right now.”
The bishops of Florida's seven Catholic dioceses are still studying the lengthy rule in greater detail before making definitive comment on it, says Dr. Mike McCarron, executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“We are gratified that we have some additional time before [the mandate] is effective, that will give us an opportunity to take a look at it and give it careful analysis,” McCarron tells SSN. “If it does continue to contain the provisions to which we have moral objections – abortion, sterilization, and requiring that employees are provided contraceptives – then we're going to have serious difficulty with that.”
Hardman says the ball is still in the Obama administration's court, and there's an easy solution that would appease over 200 plaintiffs represented by her firm.
“The solution is simple: grant the exemption that the U.S. Constitution requires, to not force people to violate their conscience,” she tells SSN. “That's all we've been asking for from the beginning.”
The contraception-abortion mandate is the Obama administration's implementation of provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, “Obamacare”), which requires HHS to define what kinds of health services employers must be forced to provide their workers. Dozens of lawsuits challenging the mandate on religious freedom grounds, litigated by the Becket Fund and by others, are making their way through the federal courts.
The Becket Fund is named after St. Thomas Becket, a 12th century archbishop of Canterbury murdered by agents of King Henry II of England for the cleric's opposition to state interference in the Church's internal affairs.
Reach Eric Giunta at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 954-235-9116.