The HHS announcement states the new rule "would not expand the universe of employer plans that would qualify for the exemption beyond that which was intended in the 2012 final rules."
That doesn't give much hope to the combined 130 plaintiffs that have sued the government over the mandate that there will be a settlement anytime soon. The lawsuits filed by the religious nonprofits have been stalled awaiting Friday's announcement. The proposal now goes through a 60-day public comment period before it is finalized and takes effect in August.
The accommodation does nothing for the private businesses that have sued the government, claiming that complying with the mandate violates the owners' right to practice their faith under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Federal courts are split over whether the mandate violates federal law with 10 judges temporarily blocking enforcement of the mandate, which imposes hefty fines for noncompliance.
Matt Bowman, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing several businesses that have won court injunctions against the mandate, said the rulings should signal to the Obama administration that the mandate is illegal.
“The administration must immediately abandon the idea that it has the power to withhold or dispense our fundamental freedoms to whomever it chooses," he said. "The mandate is losing in court. The only acceptable solution is for the administration to obey the Constitution and its legal duty to protect religious freedom.”
Timeline: Birth control controversy
March 23, 2010: Congress passes Affordable Care Act
Aug. 1, 2011: Government issues contraception mandate
Feb. 10, 2012: Obama administration announces it would propose new rule to address religious objections to mandate
Feb. 1, 2013: Obama administration releases new rule on contraception mandate
Contributing: Associated Press
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