The final rules issued last Friday by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) implementing its mandate that employers provide coverage of contraceptives “will require more careful analysis”, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has said.
The cardinal, who is president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the 110-page ruling is “long and complex” and the bishops will “provide a fuller statement when that analysis is complete”.
The HHS final ruling updates proposed rules the department had issued in February and left open for comment throughout April.
The HHS contraceptive mandate, part of the Affordable Care Act, will require most employers, including religious employers, to provide coverage of contraceptives, sterilisation and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services. It includes an exemption for some religious employers that fit its criteria.
Cardinal Dolan said that he appreciated the “five-month extension on implementing the complex proposal”, meaning the government extended its “safe harbour” period to January 1 2014, protecting employers from immediate government action against them if they fail to comply with the mandate. Before the final rules were released, that period was to end on August 1 of this year.
The Becket Fund, a non-profit, public interest law firm that has represented Catholic and other religious institutions in a number of the lawsuits against the HHS mandate, said the new ruling is not much different from the proposed rules the HHS issued in February.
Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said: “The news about the final rule is pretty simple: it’s more of the same.”
Mr Rassbach told reporters that the HHS final rule “is not very different from the inadequate rule” the HHS issued in February and updated after the 60-day comment period. He said that although “HHS tinkered with some aspects of the rule”, the agency failed to tackle “fundamental religious questions”.
“Essentially, we’re where we’ve been all along; the change now is it is final,” he said, adding that unresolved issues will have to be addressed by the courts.