White House Expected to Announce Change in Obamacare Contraceptive Mandate

By Fred Lucas | February 10, 2012 | 9:29am EST

The White House at sun-up on the Obama presidency, Jan. 21, 2009. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama White House is expected to announce an “accommodation” Friday in the contraception mandate that forces most employers – including institutions affiliated with the Catholic Church – to offer health care plans that cover the cost of abortion-inducing drugs and contraception, even if it violates their religious beliefs, ABC News first reported on Friday.

Conservatives, Catholic bishops and other religious leaders – even some congressional Democrats -- have said the mandate is an assault on religious freedom. The mandate stems from the Democrats’ health care law, which passed in 2010 without a single Republican vote.

The “accommodation” expected from the White House on Friday -- maybe from President Obama himself -- would potentially be modeled after state policies, such as that in Hawaii, ABC News reported.

In Hawaii, religious groups are allowed to opt out of coverage that includes birth control as long as employees are given information on whether such coverage can be obtained elsewhere. However, ABC reported that the White House proposal will not go that far.

With litigation pending, the administration may have to prove in court that it is seeking another way to provide birth control coverage without infringing the free exercise of religion.

The contraceptive mandate already is heading to court. Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic college in North Carolina, and Colorado Christian University, an evangelical college in Denver, have sued in federal court to block it.

The lawsuits are both based on religious freedom, guaranteed under the First Amendment, and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That law’ intent is to prevent other laws that substantially burden a person’s constitutional right to free expression of religion.

The law could be a strong case against the mandate, said Richard W. Garnett, associate dean at Notre Dame Law School.

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act sets up a standard that any time a federal law burdens the free exercise of religion, the government has to, one, show a compelling public interest in a mandate; and two, show there is not some other way to meet that interest,” Garnett told CNSNews.com.

“In this case, it is quite clear, it can easily be met some other way, through vouchers or other insurers, or the government could pay for it.”

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