New conscience exemptions issued for contraceptive mandate

HHS: Entities that have sincerely held religious beliefs against providing contraceptive services would be exempt from the mandate

Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. (Credit: Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock)

The Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor released two updated rules concerning conscience protections for organizations and individuals in relation to the HHS contraception mandate.

Under the new rules, organizations and individuals objecting to the controversial mandate’s provisions on either religious or moral grounds will be exempt.

According to a press release from HHS, the new rules “provide an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate to entities and individuals that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“Thus,” the release said, “entities that have sincerely held religious beliefs against providing contraceptive services (or services which they consider to be abortifacients) would be exempt from the mandate and no longer be required to provide such coverage.”

The new rules also cover nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and individuals that have “non-religious moral convictions” opposed to the services covered by the mandate.

Mark Rienzi, president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said that the change in administration policy meant attention could now turn to ongoing cases in the states. “Today, at long last, the federal government finalized the rule providing a religious exemption from the HHS Mandate to the Little Sisters and other religious non-profits.”

“All that is left is for state governments to admit that there are many ways to deliver these services without nuns, and the Little Sisters can return to serving the elderly poor in peace.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor are currently being sued by the state attorney general’s office in Pennsylvania and California.

Judge Wendy Beetlestone of the Federal District Court in Philadelphia issued a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration’s initial rules Dec. 15, 2017, saying Pennsylvania could suffer “serious and irreparable harm” from the rules because a lack of cost-effective contraception would mean “individual choices which will result in an increase in unintended pregnancies” burdening the state.

Shortly after Beetlestone’s ruling, Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. of the Federal District Court in Oakland also blocked the Trump administration’s rules, saying they would “transform contraceptive coverage from a legal entitlement to an essentially gratuitous benefit wholly subject to their employer’s discretion.”

Both of these cases were appealed by the administration and remain pending.

Full story at Catholic News Agency.

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