J. Michael Smith, Esq.

Michael P. Farris, JD, LLM

Federal Government Tramples Conscience Protections

Narrow Religious Exemption to New Health Insurance Guidelines

William A. Estrada, Esq.
Director of Federal Relations

August 23, 2011

Introduction and Background

On Monday, August 1, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) unveiled new guidelines related to the Obama administration’s implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

The new guidelines require most health insurance plans in the United States—including those offered by private employers—to provide full access to birth control, as well as abortion-inducing drugs such as “Ella” and “the morning after pill.” “Ella” and the “morning after pill” have been shown to harm women, and actually kill the developing baby by starving it of nutrients.

You may remember that HSLDA opposed the PPACA that was passed by the Democrat-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Obama last year. While this was not necessarily a homeschool issue, we believed that the health care law would increase the power of the federal government over families, threaten homeschool freedom through home visitation programs, and force all employers (including HSLDA) to fund abortion services in health care plans.

This concern is now becoming reality. Under the new HHS guidelines, most health insurance plans in the United States will have to provide the full range of birth control drugs by August 1, 2012. No co-pay can be required. From a fiscal perspective, it is impossible to see how this will bring down health care costs because birth control drugs are extremely expensive. And more importantly, this regulation will completely eliminate the right of employers to follow their conscience and refuse to offer birth control drugs to their employees in company-funded health care plans. Many employers object to using their company resources to pay for birth control, and many more strongly object to using company resources to pay for abortion-inducing drugs like “Ella” and the “morning after pill.”

To address the concerns of employers who have conscientious or religious objections to the new guidelines, the Obama administration also issued a regulation establishing a religious exemption to this new requirement. Unfortunately, the religious exemption is extremely narrow and will only apply to churches and other houses of worship, and possibly denominational seminaries. Religious organizations, most religious colleges, and other religious employers who have conscientious objections to offering birth control or abortion-inducing drugs will be forced to choose between abhorrent options. They will have to decide whether to end their insurance programs—which will hurt millions of employees across the nation—or violate their conscience by including birth control and abortion-inducing drugs in their insurance programs.

HSLDA has grave concerns with this narrow religious exemption. We believe that it should be broadened to not only include houses of worship, but also religious organizations, religious colleges, and employer-funded private health insurance plans if the employer has a conscientious objection to using corporate funds to pay for birth control or abortion-inducing drugs.

Action Requested

Yesterday, HSLDA submitted public comments opposing this proposed religious exemption regulation, and urging that it be substantially strengthened. You may read the text of HSLDA’s comments online.

In addition, we encourage you to submit comments to HHS about this proposed religious exemption. You may read the full text of the proposed religious exemption regulation and submit comments online. Please feel free to use some of HSLDA’s comments, or revise them into your own words. We also encourage you to bring this issue to the attention of your two U.S. senators and U.S. representative. You can find contact information for them by visiting HSLDA’s Legislative Toolbox.

Please note that your comments—including your name and contact information—become part of the public record. It is not required that you submit your name and address, however.

Additional Information

Because of the way that the previous Congress drafted the PPACA, there is no requirement that the administration respond to citizens’ comments about the new guidelines that force almost all insurance plans to provide abortion-inducing drugs like “Ella” and the “morning after pill.” These guidelines will go into effect on August 1, 2012 without anything that the new Congress or concerned citizens can do to stop it, short of Congress passing and President Obama signing new legislation into law.

However, the weak religious exemption regulation is open to public comments. The administration is required to respond to every comment that is made about the religious exemption regulation, and there is a chance that if enough Americans oppose this regulation and urge HHS to strengthen it to provide all employers with a religious exemption, the Obama administration will withdraw or modify it to protect the right of conscience. We encourage you to read the following resources for additional information:

If you have additional questions about this issue, please feel free to contact HSLDA’s federal relations department at federalrelations@hslda.org or 540-338-5600.