America's Newsroom co-host Bill Hemmer botched his description of a recent legal challenge to the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by wrongly claiming that a group of nuns who run the Little Sisters of the Poor charity will be forced to provide birth control to their employees in contravention of their religious beliefs.
In a segment discussing Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's recent temporary injunction of the application of the birth control mandate for two non-profits suing the government in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius, Hemmer misleadingly claimed that the ACA would “make [the nuns] provide birth control” to their employees. Hemmer's guest, Weekly Standard senior writer and Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes, agreed with Hemmer's characterization, calling the Sisters' existing eligibility for an exemption “not good enough.” Hayes went on to falsely equate contraception with “abortifacients” and suggested that the Obama administration would provide abortions “if they had their way”:
HEMMER: The point for this group of Catholic nuns is that if you make us provide birth control, not only does it violate our religious beliefs, but if we do not do it and adhere to the law, we will suffer fines that will cause us to go bankrupt.
HAYES: Right. And the administration -- remember, back in the spring -- proposed what they called a compromise, which would have allowed these non-profit groups to sort of certify that they weren't providing, actually providing this contraceptive and abortifacient coverage but then the insurance companies would be doing so on their behalf and the argument that you hear from those representing this group and others is that's not good enough because in effect what we would be doing is signing off and facilitating the coverage of these kinds of contraceptives and abortifacients for our employees.
HEMMER: Steve, just back up a little bit. Why did the administration think it was necessary to include this contraception mandate in the health care bill to begin with?
HAYES: Well, I think we've heard from the president pretty consistently that he believes that the government should be in the business of covering all of women's health and that is to include birth control, other contraceptives and these abortifacients -- and, I think if they had their way, abortions themselves.
The “contraception” mandate is actually part of a comprehensive provision in the ACA that ensures that women as well as men have access to a wide range of preventive healthcare services like cancer screenings, not just contraceptives. The mandate lowers costs for these services and improves access to life-saving care for as many as 47 million women -- which might explain why “the administration [thought] it was necessary to include this contraception mandate in the health care bill to begin with.”
More importantly, Little Sisters of the Poor -- which is religiously-affiliated but not owned or operated by the Catholic Church -- is not required to provide contraception for their employees. In fact, it is under no binding obligation to offer employer-sponsored insurance at all. Furthermore, if it does offer insurance, the organization, and others like it, is already eligible for an exemption from the contraception mandate. All it has to do is sign a self-certification form that says "(1) The organization opposes providing coverage for some or all of any contraceptive services required to be covered [by the ACA] on account of religious objections. (2) The organization is organized and operates as a nonprofit entity. (3) The organization holds itself out as a religious organization" and files it with their insurance provider. At that point, the entity that provides its insurance, not the nuns or their charitable organization itself, should make arrangements to cover contraception, pursuant to the law and regardless of the nuns' positions on health care.
The Little Sisters of the Poor won't “go bankrupt,” as Hemmer's asserts. The organization isn't suing because it will be forced to provide contraception in contravention to its religious beliefs; it's suing because it doesn't want to sign a piece of paper explaining its objections to certain preventative services, an unsurprising anti-birth control position it probably didn't need a lawsuit to declare.