-- Catholic News Agency
EWTN Says New Mandate Proposal Likely Brings No Relief
WASHINGTON D.C., February 1 (CNA/EWTN News) .- Eternal Word Television Network said today that the new suggested rule on the federal contraception mandate is likely inadequate to protect its religious liberty.
"We will continue to study this notice with our attorneys, but are highly doubtful it will provide EWTN with any relief from this immoral mandate," said Michael P. Warsaw, president and CEO of EWTN Global Catholic Network.
Last February, EWTN became the first Catholic organization to file a lawsuit challenging the federal contraception mandate on the grounds of religious freedom. That lawsuit is still pending in the U.S. District Court in Birmingham, Ala., and dozens of other Catholic organizations have also filed lawsuits.
On Feb. 1, the federal government issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking indicating its intent to revise the mandate in order to respect the religious freedom of groups that object to it. The mandate requires employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that can cause early abortions.
"We have analyzed today's notice with our legal team from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the initial conclusions are not promising," Warsaw said.
"First, this is simply a notice of a proposed rule; it is not an actual rule that changes anything," he explained.
"Today's notice from the government simply kicks this can further down the road."
Warsaw also observed that "throughout this proposed rule, the government continues to make the erroneous assertion that contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs are health care. They are not."
The Obama administration said in its announcement that it would expand its "religious employer" exemption to include organizations that align with Internal Revenue Code, Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii), which "refers to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order."
This "would primarily include churches, other houses of worship, and their affiliated organizations," the administration said.
Because EWTN is not affiliated or integrated with a specific house of worship, Warsaw said that "it does not appear that EWTN will qualify for this exemption."
He also lamented that the announcement has not adequately "dealt with the concerns of self-insured health plans like EWTN's."
Under the administration's new plan, employees of objecting religious employers that do not qualify for the exemption would receive free contraceptive coverage "through separate individual health insurance policies" provided by the health insurance issuers.
For self-insured groups like EWTN, a third-party administrator would work with a health insurance issuer to provide this coverage.
The federal government argued that this coverage could be provided for free because the cost of the contraceptives would be offset by the "tremendous health benefits" that women enjoy from using contraception, along with the fewer childbirths that will result.
"EWTN remains firmly committed to pressing forward with our case in the Federal Courts and will take all steps necessary to challenge this unjust mandate," Warsaw stressed.
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