Trump Administration Issues Protections for Religious or Moral Objections to Obama-Era Abortion Mandate

The seven-year battle by objectors to the abortion/contraception mandate has come to a regulatory close with a victory for freedom of conscience.

The Trump administration issued two final rules Nov. 7 that supply conscience protections to Americans with a religious or moral objection to the 2011 mandate instituted under President Obama. Announcement of the regulations came a day after an election that resulted in the Republican president’s party losing control of the U.S. House of Representatives while maintaining its Senate majority.

The controversial regulation, which helped implement the 2010 health care reform law, required employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions, or face potentially devastating fines. It elicited legal challenges from more than 90 religious nonprofits, including GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and at least seven Baptist universities.

One of the new regulations issued Nov. 7 — which finalized “interim final” rules issued in October 2017 — exempts entities and individuals from the requirement based on their religious beliefs, while the other rule protects individuals, nonprofit organizations and small businesses on the basis of a moral conviction apart from a specific religious belief.

The final rules came more than two years after the U.S. Supreme Court nullified multiple federal appeals court decisions against GuideStone and other religious institutions and more than four years following the justices’ decision in favor of Hobby Lobby’s conscience-based challenge to the mandate.

Southern Baptist advocates for conscience protections applauded the final rules.

“These exemptions are the long-awaited conclusion to the crucial achievement of preserving religious liberty from an unlawful government overreach,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

“The contraceptive mandate, and subsequent four-year delay after the Supreme Court’s ruling, revealed the audacity of a state that believed it could annex the human conscience by asking citizens to choose between obedience to God and compliance with the regulatory state,” Moore told Baptist Press in written comments. “I am thankful this effort finally ends with religious and moral exemptions issued by the administration.”

GuideStone welcomes “the new rules and appreciates this administration’s desire to protect religious organizations from having to choose between their deeply held convictions or crippling penalties,” said Timothy Head, the SBC entity’s executive officer for denominational and public relations services, in a written statement for BP.

GuideStone and two of the ministries it represents already had gained a final, favorable verdict in court. In July, a federal judge in Oklahoma issued a judgment in favor of GuideStone and its plaintiffs — Truett McConnell University, a Georgia Baptist institution, and Reaching Souls International, an Oklahoma mission-sending entity.

Cases out of California and Pennsylvania involving the Little Sisters of the Poor, however, are still under appeal. The Little Sisters of the Poor is a Roman Catholic order that serves the poverty-stricken elderly and became the face of the institutions objecting to the mandate.

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Source: Baptist Press