But the outlines of the mandate remain essentially the same, offering different levels of religious liberty to churches and ministries. An exemption from the mandate still doesn’t reach much beyond the doors of a house of worship — covering only churches, associations of churches and religious orders.

The accommodation for religious charities, colleges and hospitals is effectively unchanged from the last version. While these institutions aren’t required to pay directly for contraceptive coverage, they are forced to provide insurance that includes such coverage. It is a shell game useful only for those who want to deceive themselves. “The religious institutions are required by the government to give their workers an insurer,” says Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, “and that insurer is required by the government to give those workers abortive and contraceptive coverage, but somehow these religious employers are supposed to imagine that they’re not giving their workers access to abortive and contraceptive coverage.” …

It is a valid public health goal to promote the broad availability of contraception. But is a nearly universal mandate, imposed under threat of heavy fines, really the least restrictive method to achieve this objective? The administration has chosen to promote contraceptive access in the most heavy-handed way possible, then define the tightest exemptions it can get away with.

Now it is establishing a pattern of announcing revisions that include few substantive concessions. This strategy is clearly motivated by the courts, which have pressed for clarification on implementation of the mandate. Recent changes seem narrowly tailored to better withstand judicial scrutiny — without shifting the policy itself. Cosmetic concessions also have the benefit of dividing opposition to the mandate, providing cover for those in search of fig leaves.