Friday afternoon announcements from the Obama Administration are the norm when the news is going to be controversial. In a late afternoon info dump yesterday, officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) laid out further details on its so-called “accommodation” to the Obamacare anti-conscience mandate.

HHS released an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, soliciting comments (due 90 days after publication in the Federal Register on March 21) on its intended policy for religious employers who are not exempted from the anti-conscience mandate. As predicted, the suggested compromise is the same unworkable “accommodation” the Administration attempted to sell to the American people in a February 10 press conference.

This is just another attempt by Administration officials to dampen the widespread outcry over its coercive mandate that almost all employers provide and pay for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization—regardless of moral or religious objections to such services.

“We do not need any more rule making. We do not need any more comment periods. We already settled this with that one original rule: The First Amendment,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing five clients who have filed suit against the mandate’s violation of their religious liberty.

In yesterday’s notice, the Administration is suggesting that insurance companies offer coverage of abortion-inducing drugs and contraception—free of charge—directly to employees of religious organizations that oppose the mandate on moral or religious grounds. This way, according to the Administration’s logic, religious employers aren’t providing or paying for such services.

But religious groups aren’t following that distorted logic. Among many others, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has made clear that such accounting gimmicks are wholly inadequate to deal with the serious moral problem the mandate has forced upon religious groups.

Insurers are not going to eat the costs of these services themselves. They will simply pass the costs for the drugs along to employers through increases in premiums, a fact the Administration admits in its own notice released today.

It is the expectation of HHS that an insurance company will simply “pool” resources from all employers who purchase plans and use those funds to cover the cost of contraceptives. By the Administration’s own admission, there’s no guarantee that the funds collected by insurance companies from a religious employer’s premium payments won’t then be used to cover abortion-inducing drugs and contraception.

The Administration’s “accommodation” is nothing but an accounting gimmick that still leaves employers with objections to abortion drugs and contraception footing the bill for those services. Those employers are now forced to wait on the process of unelected bureaucrats to know whether the Administration intends to respect their First Amendment rights.

For more information on this latest move, check out:

Administration “Taking Another Mulligan”: Administration Fails Fourth Time to Protect Religious Liberty, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty press release

The Latest Mandate Announcement: “We Need a Process to Get Past November!” by James Capretta, National Review Online