Late last Friday when many Americans and certainly church leaders and were preparing for St. Patrick’s Day ceremonies and the fourth Sunday of Lent, the White House dropped a surprise announcement. As if no one would notice.

Itt said, essentially, the president has doubled-down on his already controversial HHS mandate. Instead of broadening the so-called exemption for religious institutions and individuals with moral objections, he broadened the demand for compliance with the mandate.

In a move that is likely to reignite the ire of religious leaders, late Friday afternoon the Obama administration announced a proposal that would require universities, including religious universities, to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs to their students, as well as their employees, without a co-pay. This appears to significantly widen the originally-announced HHS mandate, which had only applied to employees.

…It outlines three different options to ensure that the health plans for employees and students of religious organizations cover birth control, including abortifacient drugs, and sterilizations, without co-pay.

…Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said she found it unusual the announcement came as part of a Friday news dump on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day.

Not for this administration. Especially on this issue.

The New York Times calls it a ‘clarification.’ But the opening lines of this piece clarifies nothing, it only repeats what we already knew, but gives the administration another opportunity to claim it’s making an ‘accommodation,’ which it’s not.

“It’s a Washington accounting gimmick,” Representative Jeff Fortenberry, Republican of Nebraska, said Friday in an interview. “The administration is twisting itself in all directions to expand the ‘accommodation’ for faith-based institutions. Why is it the government’s role to decide who gets an accommodation? The White House is creating an unnecessary political firestorm.”

Mr. Fortenberry has introduced a bill to let certain employers and insurers opt out of the mandate for contraceptive coverage. More than 220 House members have signed on as co-sponsors.

The new proposal virtually guarantees that birth control will remain an issue in the battle for the White House and Congress.

Not exactly. To really clarify, as long as the HHS mandate forces individuals and institutions to violate their consciences and religious liberty rights, government overreach will remain an issue in this election year.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....