The chairman of EWTN Global Catholic Network voiced optimism over an announcement by the Trump administration Friday broadening religious and moral exemptions to the HHS mandate.
“For more than five years, the HHS contraception mandate has forced Americans to violate their deeply held moral and ethical principles, without regard for the Constitution's guarantee of religious liberty,” said Michael P. Warsaw, Chairman of the Board and CEO of EWTN, in an Oct. 6 statement. “Together with our legal team, we are carefully considering the exemptions announced today and the impact this may have on our legal challenge to the mandate, but we are optimistic that this news will prove to be a step toward victory for the fundamental freedoms of many Americans.”
The federal contraception mandate, an Obama-era HHS rule, requires employers’ health plans to include coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that can cause abortion. The initial rule’s religious exemption was so narrow it only exempted houses of worship, drawing widespread objections and lawsuits from more than 300 plaintiffs. EWTN Global Catholic Network filed a lawsuit challenging the mandate in February 2012.
Subsequent revisions allowed some changes to the mandate for some religious entities. However, groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor objected that the rule still required their complicity in providing such coverage, which violates their religious and moral standards. Refusal to comply with the rule would result in heavy — potentially crippling — fines.
The HHS interim final rule announced on Friday adds broad religious and moral exemptions to the mandate. The original rule is still in place, but now non-profits and for-profit employers that are closely-held — and even some publicly-traded for-profits — will be exempt from the mandate, if they can demonstrate a religiously-based objection to the mandate’s demands.
Non-profit groups and for-profit businesses that are not publicly-traded can also apply for an exemption to the mandate based on moral, but not religious, objections to it. However, publicly-traded for-profit businesses cannot receive a moral exemption from the mandate. An example of or a moral objection could be the secular crisis pregnancy center Real Alternatives, Inc., which has no religious affiliation, but which objected to the mandate. Real Alternatives lost a suit against the mandate at the Third Circuit Court in August, which ruled that their pro-life mission did not merit a religious exemption from the mandate.
Regarding the “accommodation” offered to non-profits by the Obama administration, that process is now voluntary. Non-profits can still have their insurer or third party administrator offer the coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives, and drugs that can cause abortions, but they do not have to do so under law.
As EWTN’s legal team examines the impact of today’s announcement on its pending lawsuit, Warsaw called for prayers for religious freedom to be respected across the country and around the globe. “I invite Catholics, and all people of faith, to join me in continued prayer for our nation, for its leaders, and for the protection of liberty in the United States, and around the world,” he said.
EWTN was founded launched in 1981 by Mother Angelica of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. The largest religious media network in the world, it reaches more than 268 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories. In addition to 11 television channels in multiple languages, EWTN platforms include radio services through shortwave and satellite radio, SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 AM and FM affiliates. EWTN publishes the National Catholic Register, operates a religious goods catalogue, and in 2015 formed EWTN Publishing in a joint venture with Sophia Institute Press. Catholic News Agency is also part of the EWTN family.