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Health Care Reform and Religious Freedom

Background on the Health Care Reform Law

The health care reform law (the "Affordable Care Act" or "ACA") was passed in 2010, and is a comprehensive regulation that impacts everyone in the United States. That law imposes three levels of mandates: (1) all individuals will be required to have a health insurance policy, or pay a fine to the government; (2) all employers (with a few exceptions for small businesses) will have to provide their employees with an insurance plan or pay a fine to the government; and (3) all insurance companies will have to cover a variety of things, including “preventive services”.

For more background information about the health care reform law, and what it will do about abortion, see here.

The HHS Contraception/Abortion Mandates

In August 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS"), acting under the authority given to them by the ACA, announced regulations to define what had to be covered by health insurance policies under the term “preventive services”. These regulations required all employers and health insurance policies to cover contraceptives (including drugs that cause early abortions) and sterilizations. There was an extremely narrow exemption for religious employers, but no exemption for religious individuals or insurance companies with objections.

There was considerable opposition, and thousands of people — including the U.S. Bishops and many other religious groups — filed comments with HHS, asking for the rejection of the regulation or the granting of a broader religious exemption. Nevertheless, HHS eventually announced that they were going to implement those regulations without any modification whatsoever.

In response to the renewed public objections, the Administration has announced a series of new regulations that claim to offer a "compromise" or "accommodation" for religious organizations.  The U.S. Bishops and other religious groups have continued to object to these new regulations -- they offer only limited protection for the religious principles of faith-based organizations, and no protection for private companies or individuals.

For more informaiton about the HHS Mandates, see here.

The Church's Challenge to the HHS Mandates

Since the announcement of the HHS Mandates, dozens of lawsuits have been filed across the nation by Catholic dioceses and institutions, challenging the contraception and abortion mandates.  Dozens of private organizations and other faith-based groups have also filed suit.  It is expected that the United States Supreme Court may rule on these cases as early as Spring 2014.

For information about the Church lawsuits, see here.

For information on the lawsuits by private businesses, see here.

The Archdiocese of New York was among the dioceses to file suit. The grounds for these lawsuits include the Free Exercise, Establishment and Free Speech clauses of the First Amendment, and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The essential arguments are that the HHS mandate intrudes upon our religious freedom by forcing our institutions to cooperate with moral evil and by intruding upon the Church's freedom to govern Herself, without interference from the state.