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Questions remain about how far the exemptions for religious orgs go

Responding to today’s announcement from the Obama administration that certain exceptions may be made for religious institutions in the implementation of the HHS mandate on contraception and abortion insurance coverage, the USCCB released a brief statement this afternoon:

In response to today’s release of revised regulations for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, provided the following statement on behalf of the USCCB.

“Today, the Administration issued proposed regulations regarding the HHS mandate. We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.”

The Catholic blogosphere, on the other hand, has been considerably less circumspect about the new proposed regulations. Deacon Greg Kandra has a good round-up of reactions here. While many object to the new regulations failing to provide exemptions for for-profit employers unwilling to pay for contraception coverage, some are arguing that even many religious non-profits will not qualify. EWTN president Michael Warsaw says his legal team doesn’t believe EWTN will be exempt under the new regulations:

We have analyzed today’s notice with our legal team from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the initial conclusions are not promising. First, this is simply a notice of a proposed rule; it is not an actual rule that changes anything. Second, while the proposed rules might expand the mandate’s religious exemption for some organizations affiliated directly with the Church, it does not appear that EWTN will qualify for this exemption. Third, the proposed rules have not dealt with the concerns of self-insured health plans like EWTN’s. Today’s notice from the government simply kicks this can further down the road.

Matt Bowman, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, argues at Catholic Vote that Catholic institutions—such as hospitals and universities—are not exempt from providing contraception coverage under the proposed regulations, although churches and religious orders are. In a critique of the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters’ “endorsement” of the regs, Bowman writes:

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 those 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.

The proposed regulations, which run about 80 pages, can be read in full here.
 
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Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.
 
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