A Closer Look at the Contraceptive Coverage Lawsuits: The Radical Agenda Behind the Fight Over Religious Exemptions
Thirty lawsuits have been filed by corporations challenging the Health and Human Services regulation requiring that most health plans cover contraceptives. The plaintiffs are primarily Christian-affiliated institutions, but include some secular for-profit companies as well. A survey of these cases yields some useful information as to what the “religious freedom” debate is all about.
The strangest thing about these cases is that the plaintiffs, with the exception of the secular for-profits, have not yet been required to provide contraceptive coverage and may never be. The Obama administration has exempted objecting religiously-affiliated organizations from the regulation for one year while the accommodation is negotiated and finalized. The administration has been extremely generous in allowing objecting institutions to take advantage of this “safe harbor,” even amending the eligibility requirements to include institutions that have provided contraceptive coverage in the past but recently discovered they were violating their religious beliefs by doing so.
Thus, the claim of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, quoted in a number of the complaints, that the safe harbor gives religiously-affiliated institutions “a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” does not comport with the facts, to put it nicely. The safe harbor is not merely a delay. It is a period intended for continued dialogue. At this point, the religiously-affiliated plaintiffs do not know if they will ever have to provide insurance with contraceptive coverage, which is why the three cases decided so far have been dismissed.
Opponents of the regulation have claimed repeatedly that the problem isn’t that it will make contraception more accessible, but that its exception for religious organizations is too narrow. But, oddly, rather than arguing they meet the criteria for an exception or should, the plaintiffs in these cases argue that that they are not exempt. Why do this? Why not ask and argue for an exemption and sue only if the government does require that plaintiffs provide coverage for contraception? These cases are premature and courts are likely to continue to throw them out without reaching the merits.
It takes a lot of time and money to bring so many bad cases before the government has made you do anything you don’t want to. What’s the big rush?