“This encroachment of religious freedom is blatant and outrageous and should be taken seriously by those of us who are part of the body of believers, as well as by others who respect and regard this nation’s history and constitutional foundation,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said in a written statement.
Under final guidelines announced Jan. 20, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the controversial 2010 health care reform law would require health plans and insurers to provide no-cost coverage of contraceptives and sterilizations as preventive services. The “contraceptive mandate,” as it has become known, requires all methods approved as birth control by the Food and Drug Administration to be included in a range of services offered to patients free of charge. Those FDA-endorsed contraceptives include ones that have abortion-causing properties – emergency contraception, such as Plan B; the intrauterine device (IUD); and “ella.”
Richard Land, president of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, have been among Southern Baptist and evangelical leaders who have decried the rule and its insufficient religious exemption. Land has described the combination as “bad news for freedom of conscience and for respect for the freedom of religion protections” in the Constitution, while Mohler said Obama “has trampled religious liberty underfoot.”
While many evangelicals have publicly opposed the HHS rule, the Roman Catholic Church has led the resistance to the new regulation, which will affect its many hospitals, colleges and social service programs. Catholic bishops have said they cannot comply. Many American Catholics recently heard letters from their bishops decrying the rule read in masses.
In its Feb. 6 statement, GuideStone said it “strongly opposes any governmental intrusion on the ability of church health plans to reflect fundamental and long held religious convictions.”
GuideStone described the 2010 health care law – labeled by critics as “Obamacare” – as “the greatest challenge ever confronted” by denominational church plans and said it is actively involved in seeking its total repeal. GuideStone also is part of a coalition of other church plans seeking “legislative and regulatory relief” – including an adequate conscience clause – from some of the law’s effects, according to its statement.
GuideStone has not addressed the question of whether it will comply with the contraceptive regulation if an adequate religious exemption is not provided, said Timothy Head, the board’s executive officer for denominational and public relations. GuideStone would prefer to address that question if and when it arises, he told BP.
Hawkins said in the Feb. 6 statement that GuideStone “is honored to join with our friends at [the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission] and all of our other Southern Baptist Convention entities to advocate on behalf of those organizations and individuals we are so privileged to serve. We will remain vigilant and diligent in these efforts with our long held biblical convictions and our participants’ needs uppermost in our mind.”
GuideStone, which is based in Dallas, serves worldwide more than 200,000 participants who serve in about 36,000 churches, missions organizations, schools, hospitals and other ministries. In addition to health and other insurance coverage, GuideStone also offers retirement, investment management, property and casualty coverage and other services.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., introduced legislation Jan. 30 to protect religious liberty in the new HHS rule. His measure would amend federal law to prevent any guidelines based on the 2010 health care reform law from requiring any person or organization to provide coverage of contraception or sterilization in violation of religious belief.
The ERLC endorsed Rubio’s bill, which is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, S. 2043.
The HHS rule goes into effect for most health plans beginning Aug. 1, but the administration granted an extra year for compliance to nonprofit employers who currently refuse to cover contraceptives in their insurance plans because of their religious beliefs.