Background on HHS requirement to provide contraceptives in health insurance plans – part 1

I don’t do politics on my blogs.  I’m not making an exception now or anytime in the future.

It is not political to speak up when official government policy will require you or your organization to compromise your faith-formed, scripture-driven, core religious beliefs.

That is the place many people are at with the requirement from HHS to include contraceptives, including abortifacients, in all healthcare plans.

Such a requirement is completely contrary to the beliefs of people from the Roman Catholic tradition, as we saw in the news yesterday. It also violates the core beliefs of many other people and organizations in the religious nonprofit community.  This isn’t a concern for everyone, but it will be a major issue for many traditions.

I don’t follow healthcare issues closely, but I think it is time to provide some background for readers of my blog.

You can find a superb primer from the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance in their article, The Contraceptives/Abortifacients Mandate, Religious Freedom, and Parachurch Ministries.

The executive summary has this comment for an introduction:

Morally troubling drugs. The federal contraceptives mandate requires group and individual insurance plans, as of plan years that begin on or after August 1, 2012, to cover without copays or deductibles the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives, including the abortion-inducing “morning after” (Plan B) and “week after” (ella) pills. The mandate applies whether or not your ministry receives government funds.

The requirement affects health plans with a fiscal year starting after August 1, 2012.  I’m guessing there will be many secondary schools and colleges affected this summer.

There are a number of reasons that many organizations in the Christian faith tradition have serious concerns. I’m guessing that portions of the Jewish and Moslem traditions will likely have a problem as well. Here is a list of concerns from the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance:

  • you object for religious or moral reasons to including abortifacients, contraceptives, or sterilization in your health plan and your organization does not qualify for the exemption;
  • you object to an “accommodation” in which the insurance company will provide contraceptives to your employees’ minor children without their parents’ knowledge or consent;
  • you object to the federal government’s insistence that, because you serve people beyond your own faith and do not restrict your help simply to religious activities, your ministry is not a fully religious organization that deserves to be fully exempt;
  • you  object to the creation in federal law of the precedent of two classes of religious organizations: churches, dedicated to worship and religious teaching, which are fully exempt, and parachurch ministries, dedicated to serving others, whose conscience concerns receive less  protection;
  • you object because, if the government successfully imposes the contraceptives/abortifacients mandate, it may be emboldened to include surgical abortion in a future mandate;
  • you stand in solidarity with other religious communities that have a deep moral objection to the use of contraceptives and/or to drugs that can induce abortions.

A brief comment on abortifacients, in case you haven’t been exposed to the issue. That is a medicine that can work in several different ways, as I understand.  It can prevent conception, or it can make the uterus hostile to a fertilized egg thus preventing implantation, or it could cause the uterus to reject an implanted egg.  How it works in any particular situation depends on specific timing and circumstances for its use.

For a significant portion of people in many religious traditions, this is a serious problem.

Look again at point number 2.  Many organizations in circles where I move will have a significant objection to providing contraceptives to minors of their employees without their employees’ consent.  I’m guessing that many of those employees would object as well.

If your core religious beliefs say those issues aren’t issues, that is fine. If your beliefs are not driven by religion, then you may have a concern with those issues or you may not. That is fine too.  If you are in that place, please understand other people reach a different conclusion.

The article has a lot of background information. For a flavor of the article, here is a list of the major sections:

The Current Regulations: What they Mean for Your Ministry

Executive Summary

What is the Contraceptives/Abortifacient Mandate?

Exempt Organizations: Definition in the Regulations

Organizations and Plans: Exempt and Non-Exempt

Temporary Relief for Parachurch Ministries

The Promise of a Future Accommodation for Parachurch Ministries

What Can Your Ministry Do About Your Health Insurance?

If you have not yet tuned into the new mandate which will be affecting your health plan soon, the above article would be a good place to start.

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