HHS’s Shell Game Theology


The Catholic Left has embraced a factually false defense of President Obama’s proposed rule change coercing people to facilitate coverage of abortion-pills, contraception and sterilization.

NCReporter’s Michael Sean Winters is still relying on flawed information. He repeats that the proposal will “remove the four-part definition of an exempt religious organization and, instead, use a long-established part of the IRS code.” This is simply incorrect. The old rule and the new rule use exactly the same “part of the IRS code,” IRC section 6033, which in the old and the new rule both will only exempt churches and the like. Winters said he listened to Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Deputy Director of Policy and Regulation at the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on the conference call with reporters Friday. But in that very call, Brooks-LaSure insisted that the new proposal still, like the old one, only applies to “houses of worship.” The new proposal eliminated three of the four prongs of the old rule: inculcate values, and primarily hire and serve co-religionists. But it kept the fourth prong from the exact IRS code section. The change therefore does not expand who is covered to schools or hospitals: it simply makes it clear to churches that they are covered even if they serve non-co-religionists.

This is important because it points to what Winters and those on the left claimed for the past year that they were upset about: a rule that would differentiate between the Church and her schools and hospitals. The proposed rule still does this, entirely. The proposed rule still denies exemptions to schools and hospitals and gives them only to houses of worship. It does so more clearly, but not more broadly. If Winters was ever sincere about objecting to this distinction, he cannot now declare the problem solved, when the fact that hospitals aren’t exempt hasn’t been fixed at all. Winters’ surrender on this point is akin to telling a prisoner on death row that he will now be executed for one crime he did not commit, instead of for four crimes he did not commit. Thank you, sir, may I have another.

Winters abandons his objection to denying exemptions to schools and hospitals, claiming that now, “I do not object to the idea that churches are “exempt” and hospitals are “accommodated.”” His change of heart comes from the idea in the proposed rule that insurance companies will provide the objectionable coverage, not the schools and hospitals themselves. But this idea is not new; it is exactly the same as when it was proposed last March. Nothing at all has changed about that idea.

The idea that religious non-profits must accept the “accommodation” is morally bankrupt, for four reasons. First, if the government forced all cable television companies to carry pornography, and forced religious hospitals to give their employees subscriptions to cable television (but exempted churches), it would be morally irrelevant for the government to protest that the pornography is being provided by the cable company, not by the employer, or that it only gets watched if the employee flips to that channel. This moral “reasoning” is absurd. The employer is providing the indispensible vehicle that the government uses to push objectionable items to the employer’s own employees. The objectionable coverage is happening through the employer’s own paid insurer or plan administrator. If the nonprofit uses an insurer, the rule says the insurer’s costs are directly offset by the plan the nonprofit does pay for. And if the nonprofit is self-insured, it will be harder to hire plan administrators because they must go out and get the objectionable coverage, and the private information of the non-profit’s employees will be disclosed to a stranger insurance company. In fact under the rule, the employer is forced to provide its insurance company with a certification document that is used as a specific trigger to cause the objectionable coverage to flow to the employees and their daughters. This is akin to the “free pass for abortion” that German pro-life pregnancy centers were issuing for abortion-minded women a few years ago, which the German bishops decided was a morally impermissible ticket for abortion.

Second, it is none of the government’s business to engage in moral theology, much less to force pro-life and pro-fertility religious groups to agree with President Obama’s casuistry. Who cares if Winters and Sebelius think backdoor provision of contraception is morally legitimate? Others disagree. American law does not let the government dictate that armchair moral theology is more orthodox than traditional moral theology.

Third, the coverage for employees is “automatic,” not optional; it is not merely for employees “who want it.” The government stated this in the March 2012 regulations, thousands of people objected to it, and it is still here in the new regulations. Employees who work for pro-life and pro-fertility non-profits because they agree with their mission, and who do not want free abortifacients and sterilization for their daughters, will be forced by ObamaCare to get coverage for it anyway.

Finally, Winters’ surrender to the Obama administration undermines what he claimed to object to all along. If there is no moral problem with forcing a religious group to provide a specific channel for abortifacient and contraceptive coverage, then there should have been no problem when that exemption applied to some churches, too. There would not even need to be an exemption for churches under Winters’ new theological revelation. Winters previously claimed that the witness of a church would be compromised by Obama’s moral shell game, and that it was not permissible to refuse to exempt a church’s schools and hospitals too, becasue they have an equally important moral witness that could not be severed from their churches. Winters now abandons that concern. Under his rationale, not even churches need to be exempt, and it is not clear how his half-hearted protestations were ever serious.

The Catholic left’s wholesale endorsement of President Obama’s proposed abortion-pill mandate rule is a rejection of what these same people claimed was important as recently as week ago. The proposed rule still exempts only churches and refuses exemptions to their schools and hospitals; it still imposes the same moral shell game to force religious non-profits to provide coverage that is the conduit for objectionable items; and it still purports to force the government’s moral theology on even religious non-profits that disagree.

UPDATE: It seems that Winters is unable to discuss this issue without relying on deeply flawed facts. His latest post incorrectly asserts that the administration created “a distinct revenue stream that reimburses the insurance companies or Third Party Administrators at self-insured institutions with a reduction in the fees they pay the federal government to participate in the exchanges.” This false: the “exchange fees” will not be used for religous non-profits who use insurers. It is only even being proposed in self-insured circumstances, not for externally insured schools and hospitals. Regardless, Winters has now entirely abandonned his previous complaint about exempting churches but not their schools and hospitals. A sad but not unexpected result considering Winters’ gradual surrender during the Obama campaign.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author

Matt Bowman is a pro-life, religious liberties and constitutional law attorney in the Washington, DC area. He graduated from Ave Maria School of Law in 2003 and clerked for several federal judges thereafter. The Bowmans are involved in homeschooling and classical Catholic education and are rabid fans of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Matt is a member of the Knights of Columbus and his local parish.

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