GuideStone is pleased to see today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of its publication of a new interim final rule affecting the Contraceptive Mandate under the Affordable Care Act.
The new interim final rule was announced Friday, October 6.
“This new rule validates the claims asserted in our lawsuit,” GuideStone general counsel Harold R. Loftin, Jr. said. “The government cannot and should not trample over the rights of religious organizations as they seek to provide high quality health plans to their employees. The interim final rule published today in essence acknowledges that the government violated the law in proposing the original Contraceptive Mandate. GuideStone feels this is a positive first step in the right direction. We look forward to the interim final rule becoming a final rule.”
The new regulations are effective immediately.
“This is indeed good news for all Americans who value the important role of religious liberty in our nation,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “This new interim final rule issued today (October 6) is not the end of the protracted legal battle endured by far too many ministries throughout our nation. However, it is a significant step in ending the years-long ordeal. While we welcomed the opportunity to advocate on behalf of those we served, in this case all the way to the Supreme Court, it is gratifying that this rule is in the process of being rescinded by the executive branch.”
Ministries affected by the rule, including colleges, universities and some mission-sending agencies, have not been at risk to penalties due to a unanimous Supreme Court decision in May 2016, which had ordered the government to adopt new rules and prohibited fines while it worked on the new rules. The Obama administration did not issue new rules before it left office in January. Churches and a narrow band of closely held auxiliaries of churches, including Southern Baptists’ historic boards and seminaries, were exempt from the rule.
“GuideStone has an almost century-long history of serving the needs of churches, ministries, hospitals, mission-sending organizations, universities, colleges, retirement and children’s homes, and many others,” Hawkins said. “Over half of that time we have had the privilege of providing health plans that reflected the needs and unique characteristics of churches and ministries. We know best what the ministries and participants we serve want, and we are committed to serving them in accordance with their wishes.”
Prior to the contraceptive mandate, GuideStone’s benefit programs covered the vast majority of Food and Drug Administration-approved birth control drugs and devices, but did not cover those drugs or devices that could have caused an abortion.
“We filed this case to protect the rights of the unborn and to stop the government’s infringement of our religious liberty as well the liberties of all the ministry organizations GuideStone serves. We are hopeful that having admitted to its violation of the law, the government’s lawyers will consent to a final judgment that will protect GuideStone and the organizations it serves from future regulatory efforts to infringe these rights,” Loftin said.
The revised contraceptive ruling will have no impact on churches and participants seeking to re-enroll for 2018.
“We are grateful to God, first and foremost, for this outcome,” Hawkins said. “This has been a matter of continued prayer as we petitioned the throne of grace and the seat of government for redress of our grievances. Today is indeed a good day as we give thanks for the outcome we believe honors the Lord.”