Contraception and Conscience: A Symposium on Religious Liberty, Women’s Health, and the HHS Rule on Provision of Birth Control Coverage for Employees

A conference examining the legal, theological, health, equality, and ethical issues relating to the recent Rule promulgated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on “Coverage of Preventive Services Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

The symposium brought together legal, religious, and cultural scholars and practitioners for a day-long conversation about the increasingly contentious public debate surrounding the HHS Rule requiring employers to subsidize preventive health services for employees, the religious accommodations in the HHS rule, and the lawsuits filed by religious objectors challenging the rule.


8:30 AM: Continental Breakfast

9:00 AM: Introduction from Dean William M. Treanor, Georgetown University Law Center

9:10-10:45 AM: The Legal Challenges to the HHS Contraception Rule

What is the nature of the HHS Rule and its religious accommodations? What is the status of the more than two dozen lawsuits challenging the HHS Rule? How are the courts likely to resolve the statutory and constitutional issues? How do claims of religious conscience apply to institutional employers, including for-profit employers? What are the relevant state interests—should the Rule be viewed as simply about enabling access to preventive health care, or also about ensuring equality in the workplace? How do these cases reflect broader trends in the development of the law of religious liberty? How should HHS frame its promised additional religious accommodation?

Martin Lederman, Georgetown University Law Center
Louise Melling, American Civil Liberties Union
Melissa Rogers, Wake Forest University Divinity School, Center for Religion and Public Affairs
Robert Vischer, University of St. Thomas School of Law
Lori Windham, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

11:00 AM-12:45 PM: What is the Burden on Religious Exercise?

Does the HHS Rule put religious employers to an untenable choice between obeying the law and honoring religious obligations, and if so, how? Does it require individuals or entities to “cooperate with evil” in a manner that their faith forbids? Does compliance with the law prevent them from “bearing witness” to their faith or create “scandal” by conveying endorsement of activities to which the employer morally objects?

Lisa Sowle Cahill, Boston College
Patrick Deneen, University of Notre Dame
Cathleen Kaveny, University of Notre Dame
Michael Kessler, Georgetown University
John Langan, S.J. Georgetown University
Robert Tuttle, George Washington University School of Law

2:15-4:00 PM: A Broader Focus

How and why did this particular issue engender such concern and controversy? What are the historical antecedents? What does it tell us about how religious communities and institutions (especially those involved in provision of education and social services) can and should navigate rapidly changing norms in the public square? What are the implications of this debate for preventive health services? For women’s equality in the workplace and elsewhere in public life? What are the ethical implications for physicians and other health-care providers?

Gregg Bloche, Georgetown University Law Center
Tracy Fessenden, Arizona State University
Eduardo Peñalver, Cornell University Law School
Robin West, Georgetown University Law Center
Robin Fretwell Wilson, Washington & Lee University School of Law
The conference was co-sponsored by the Georgetown University Law Center and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. It was made possible through a grant from the Ford Foundation.

>>Resources and background on the HHS mandate and subsequent debate

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