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Life, Liberty and HHS: New Rules, Old Problems

It’s a venerable Washington tradition to save controversial and/or embarrassing announcements for Friday afternoons, hoping that when Monday rolls around, people’s attention will be elsewhere.

And what better time to try and slip one past the American people than the Friday before the Super Bowl? Thus, last Friday, the Obama administration announced some further modifications to the HHS mandate. This is version 3.0 of that part of Obamacare that requires employers to pay for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients, irrespective of their religious convictions.

What was announced on Friday was an attempt to mollify critics while remaining true to the worldview that — pun fully intended — gave birth to these new regulations in the first place.

According to an HHS spokesperson, “churches and houses of worship are specifically exempt” from the HHS mandate, and “nonprofit religious organizations like universities, hospitals or charities with religious objections won’t have to arrange, contract or pay for coverage of these services for their employees or students.”

Instead, “insurance companies ... will cover contraceptive services.”

Now if that sounds like something of a free lunch to you, you’re not alone. According to the New York Times, “many insurers asked [the government] where they would get the money to pay for birth control pills if — as the proposed rule says — they cannot ‘impose any premium, fee or other charge’ for the coverage.”

Now my best guess is this is little more than an accounting trick. The cost will eventually be passed to the religious non-profits who will still, by the act of hiring, be the ones initiating the coverage in the first place. But even if my cynicism is proven wrong, the so-called accommodation still, as Kyle Duncan of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty told the Times, “does nothing to protect the religious freedom of millions of Americans.”

For starters, it’s still not clear if all non-profits are actually exempt. The administration, attempting to simplify the exemption criteria, now refers to a subsection of the IRS tax code. Because the tax code is clear? If past experience is any guide — and it almost always is — we can expect a struggle for certain non-profits who don’t neatly fit any criteria.

And what about for-profit companies? The folks at Hobby Lobby are in exactly the same place today as they were on January 31: having to choose between obeying their Christian conscience and paying potentially-crippling fines.

Their fates lie in the hands of the courts, even as Department of Justice lawyers continue to refer to them as “secular entities” who must forfeit their religious freedom because they are in the marketplace.

In light of all the criticism the Obama administration is receiving, why are they still fiddling around with these bad rules? Because what motivates the administration’s intransigence is the view that pregnancy and childbirth are illnesses, making the mandate part of a larger “preventive care” program. Contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients are regarded as the equivalents to “mammograms, colonoscopies, blood pressure checks, and childhood immunizations.”

In other words, the unborn child is in the same class as cancer, hypertension and viruses.

Even if the HHS regulations had fully protected religious freedom (which they didn’t), we still must oppose this inversion of human dignity and the sanctity of life. So let’s remember that we’re fighting not only for our freedom but for the sanctity of life itself.

Please, come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and we’ll link you to important articles about the HHS mandate, and my video interview with HHS expert from the Heritage Foundation, Jennifer Marshall.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: February 5, 2013

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