The new rules, however, do not apply to private businesses whose owners have religious or moral obligations to contraception — and that issue has already been a major battleground in federal courts. Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned arts-and-crafts chain that’s suing the government over the mandate, won a round June 27 in its bid to not offer the contraception coverage to employees. On Friday, a federal court ordered the government to not enforce the mandate. Without the ruling, Hobby Lobby would be required to provide contraceptives on July 1 or face $1.3 million a day in fines.
The Obama administration on Friday (June 28) issued final rules for religious groups for its controversial contraception mandate, maintaining its position on who qualifies for religious exemption and allowing no carve-outs for private business owners.
More than 60 lawsuits have been filed over the mandate, a part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act that requires most employers to provide contraception at no cost to employees.
Just as when the draft rules were first unveiled in February, conservatives denounced them as an unconstitutional violation of religious freedom that forces religious organizations and the religious owners of private businesses to offer services they find morally abhorrent.
Opponents of the mandate say that without relief, they will be forced to provide coverage for medication and sterilization procedures that they believe are tantamount to abortion.
“The Obama administration insists on waging war on religious freedom, and the final rule issued today confirms that,” said Gregory S. Baylor, a lawyer with the conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.
“On multiple levels, the president is articulating what is arguably the most narrow view of religious freedom ever expressed by an administration in this nation’s history.”
A “safe harbor” agreement that gave temporary reprieve from the contraceptive requirement was supposed to end in August, but on Friday the administration extended it to January 2014.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who has led the charge against the mandate under the banner of religious freedom, welcomed the five-month reprieve but said the rules were too “long and complex” to give an immediate reaction.
The finalized rules from the Department of Health and Human Services come after months of intense battles over who could qualify for an exemption from the required coverage. As they did in February, Friday’s rules define “religious employer” to include houses of worship and affiliated organizations such as hospitals or universities.
In a compromise that conservatives have called inadequate, the rules also transfer the cost of contraceptives away from objecting employers to insurance companies.