Aug. 30, 2012
As we close out this historic month of August, 2012, I cant help but comment on a very sad day that marked the start of a new moment in American history. The infamous contraceptive mandate began its implementation stage on August 1, 2012, and on this day the landscape of the separation of Church and State as we have known it in the United States was drastically altered. On that day groups were forced to violate religious dictates and consciences on such matters as insurance coverage of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.
Those who have been following this debate will well remember that one year ago, the department of Health and Human Services used its regulatory power to mandate that the full range of Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptives be included in all health insurance plans, minus a very small group of religious employers, namely places of worship.
A massive public outcry ensued this decision, resulting in the Obama Administration announcing a purported accommodation last February (one that is yet to be worked through in any level of detail) as well as a one year safe haven for certain religious employers while they worked through the logistics of violating their consciences.
Organizations that do not fulfill the safe haven criteria include businesses, and groups that must not have provided any kind of contraception coverage before the February 10th regulation was issued. A number of lawsuits have been filed in response, including many asking for immediate injunctions against the mandate set to begin on Wednesday.
So who are the first casualties of the healthcare law? One such group is Weingartz Supply based out of Ann Arbor,Michigan. The organization provides supplies for lawn-mowing and snow removal. Until now the business, owned by a Catholic has not included contraception coverage, but now will be required to do so. Representing Weingartz and a Catholic business organization, Legatus, the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan filed a suit asking for an injunction from the mandate, but a hearing has not yet been set despite a May filing.
Similarly, a family-owned heating and cooling business in Colorado, Hercules, sought and received a temporary injunction the Friday before the mandate was to be implemented. But the injunction is specific to their family business, other groups are not covered.
Other casualties of the healthcare law include insurers and participants in the individual market who must to comply with the HHS Mandate as well as schools that have already removed health insurance coverage because of the HHS Mandate. To date this includes Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio as well as Ave Maria University in Florida. Note the irony, given that the goal of the healthcare law was to have more people covered, not less.
By far the vast majority of religious groups impacted by this mandate will feel the pinch once the safe harbor period (and the election) is over.
As we reflect upon this defining moment in history where HHS has in essence used regulatory power to redefine Church and State relations, I can still find comfort in the balance of power existing in our U.S. democratic system. The constitutionality of this regulation will ultimately be decided by the courts, where approximately 50 suits related to the HHS mandate currently wait to be heard.