Michael Sean Winters wrote a post today endorsing the revised HHS Mandate rule as a “miracle,” albeit in a qualified way, since he admits he doesn’t know the legal details. Winters was wise to qualify his remarks, because his enthusiasm lead him to several basic factual errors that undermine the heart of his endorsement.
First Winters says that the proposed rule eliminates the four-part religious exemption distinction, separating the church from her hospitals, universities, charities and other ministries. This is simply incorrect. The proposed rule continues to offer an exemption to churches and only churches, not to universities, hospitals, charities and other non-profits. The rule does eliminate the three requirements that churches must be self-focused. But it maintains the fourth requirement that only churches and religious orders are exempt–only a small list of church entities that do not file an IRS form 990 (an arbitrary and narrow category to use for this purpose). The proposed rule fully maintains the distinction that only churches, not their ministries, deserve an exemption.
On this incorrect premise Winters contends that the proposed rule exempts Catholic universities, hospitals, charities and the like. It does not. It requires them to comply with the abortifacient, contraception and sterilization mandate. Instead, the proposed rule, without exempting these entities (while churches are exempt), tells these religious entities that they can engage in an accounting gimmick, by which the insurance company that they pay to insure their employees will provide those employees having that plan with objectionable coverage. The proposed rule simply calls this “separate,” and imagines that abortifacient drugs, surgical sterilization, and contraception don’t actually cost anything. This is a fiction on multiple levels. Insurance companies have up front costs for surgical sterilizations and these other items. And even if they were government subsidized (something Winters called for but the administration failed to do), the religious employer would still be giving its employee a plan that directly causes her to receive coverage it objects to.
Therefore three notable things remain in place under this proposed rule. First, the Obama administration still exempts churches from the mandate, but not the church’s other ministries, refusing to extend that exemption even as far as the Catholic Health Association asked it to do last year. Second, the abortifacient mandate is still, as Democrats for Life’s Kristen Day, Bart Stupak and Thomas Berg said last year, an abortion mandate in ObamaCare, violating Winters’ and the presidents’ and other people’s promises, and it is applicable to thousands of objecting religious Americans. Third, that mandate of abortion and other items is still imposed on religious non-profits who must, under penalty of law, provide employees an insurer that provides them objectionable coverage, under the fiction that it is really someone else doing it. And it is imposed on all other religious Americans without even pretending they don’t have to provide abortion coverage.