WASHINGTON The Obama administration's much-criticized abortion/contraceptive mandate went into effect Aug. 1, forcing businesses and religious organizations to carry insurance plans covering contraceptives that can cause chemical abortions, at no cost to the employee.
It is not known how many businesses and religious organizations are impacted, and in fact, it is possible that most of them are not yet. That's because businesses and religious organizations had the option of "grandfathering" the plans they had as of March 23, 2010 the date the health care law was signed as long as no major changes had been made since then. That means that if their plan did not include contraceptives then, it does not have to do so now, as long as the grandfathered requirements are met.
Religious organizations not eligible for "grandfathered" status could get a one-year extension until Aug. 1, 2013, but only if their insurance plans, as of Feb. 10 of this year, had not provided any contraceptive coverage due to religious objections.
Religious liberty organizations say the mandate, and its exemptions and loopholes, has multiple problems. Their biggest objection is that, for the first time, the federal government is requiring businesses and religious organizations to cover contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs, something to which they might have strong moral objections. Catholic doctrine opposes all forms of contraceptives, and although Protestants generally don't oppose all types of contraceptives, they mostly do oppose abortion on demand. The mandate rule, written by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), includes in its definition of "contraceptives" such products as morning-after pills and emergency contraceptives for instance, Plan B and ella that can work after fertilization and cause a chemical abortion.
Opponents of the mandate also object to its narrow religious liberty exemption. Although churches are exempt from the mandate, religious organizations such as Christian schools and universities, faith-based hospitals and certain ministries are not.
Opponents of the mandate say there are other problems:
• HHS did not issue its proposed rules on the mandate until Aug. 1, 2011, well after the grandfather date of March 23, 2010. This means that business owners and religious organizations who object to contraceptives and/or abortion may have made changes to their plans after March 23, 2010, not realizing what their action would lead to that is, them being held to the HHS mandate and forced to cover chemical abortions and contraceptives.
"People weren't thinking of the significance [the changes] would have here," attorney Patrick D. Purtill, of the Gammon & Grange law firm, said on a July 31 conference call sponsored by the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance.
• The rule for the one-year extension does not acknowledge that some religious organizations might oppose covering some, but not all, contraceptives. Many Protestant organizations fit this definition. Yet to be eligible for the one-year extension, a religious organization must have not covered any contraceptives.
Wheaton College, an evangelical school in Illinois, is impacted by the Aug. 1 deadline because it did not meet the requirements to be grandfathered in or to get a one-year extension. It filed suit against the government in July, and on Aug. 1, it asked a federal judge to issue an injunction in its favor.
"Remember August 1, 2012. Today begins a violation of American conscience like we have never seen before in our country, and Wheaton College personifies it," Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said in a statement. Becket Fund is representing Wheaton. "Everyone knows Wheaton is a school that lives out its faith. But today our government is telling Wheaton it is not 'religious enough' to have a conscience, and so can be forced to participate in abortions or face heavy fines. Wheaton's only recourse is to ask the federal courts for emergency relief."
Unless a court steps in, Wheaton will be forced to follow the mandate in late October, when its new insurance year begins. (Even with the Aug. 1 deadline, the mandate doesn't kick in until the new "insurance year" begins, which varies from employer to employer.)
Other colleges and universities, though, have met the grandfather requirement. One of them is Union University in Jackson, Tenn., which says the mandate does not apply to them.
"Should we, however, ever lose our grandfathered status, the mandate would apply to us," the university said in a statement.