U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Decrees Insurers Cover Contraceptives “Next Year”

On Friday January 20, 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a one-year reprieve for some insurers to the controversial “contraceptive mandate” issued last August. The mandate requires that all insurance providers cover the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices, including those that can be used post-conception to destroy existing human life.

The reprieve was aimed at a narrow group of insurers: groups that do not already carry contraceptives and who do not already meet the definition of “religious employer.” Those who are allowed to avail themselves of the reprieve will still be forced to tell their employees where to obtain contraceptives.

“Although couched in terms of compromise, this postponement simply adds insult to injury since it protects a mere fraction of those impacted by the mandate, and it does not address the core objections to the mandate: the rule’s evisceration of rights of conscience,” states Dana Cody, Life Legal Defense Foundation’s President and Executive Director. “Waiting a year shifts some of the impact of the mandate down the road, allowing the Obama Administration to appear sympathetic to the American value of freedom of conscience in this election year. The Obama administration shows again that it can play politics well, but has little interest in protecting the sincerely held conscientious beliefs of Americans.”

Numerous groups, including Life Legal Defense Foundation, submitted comments on the contraceptive rule to HHS in September, arguing that the narrow exemption provided for “religious employers” was essentially meaningless. For instance, the exemption would potentially cover places of worship, but would not cover religious groups that provide social services, education or engage outreach to people of different religious faiths, nor would it cover religious health insurance companies, religious health care providers, or individuals.

Legal analysts have suggested that the mandate not only violates existing conscience protections on abortion such as the Hyde/Weldon Amendment (in that drugs that can act as abortifacients are covered, such as Plan B and Ella), but also violates the principles of the Church Amendments which protect the conscience rights of those who object to medical services on moral or religious grounds.