Obama Administration’s Conscience Override Tramples Freedom

Published March 23, 2012

Religious hospitals, universities, and charities lost an early round in the battle over religious liberty in March when the U.S. Senate rejected an amendment by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri that would have protected their First Amendment rights.

The Blunt amendment provided an escape from an Obama administration mandate forcing employers and health care plans to pay, either directly or indirectly, for sterilization, drugs that cause early abortions, and contraceptives, even if it violates their religious and moral beliefs. But this debate will continue into the general election and could very well wind up in the courts.

Religious Exemption Rejected

The Blunt amendment, which would have restored the protections that existed just a month ago—before the ObamaCare mandate—was narrowly rejected 48-51. Three Democrats joined all but one Republican senator in supporting the Blunt conscience-rights amendment.

The White House framed this as a fight over women’s health and access to free birth control pills. But the American people understand this is really about the fundamental issue of the founding principles of this country and the meaning of the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty.

Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) learned that during a recent town hall meeting, when a constituent asked her, “Under what portion of the Constitution is the government allowed to require a private or religious organization to pay for anything for free?”

When Rep. Hochul responded, “Well, basically we’re not looking at the Constitution on that aspect,” the audience erupted.

Institutions Reject Mandate

Hochul and the 51 senators who voted against the Blunt amendment will have some explaining to do regarding their votes against religious liberty. It is impossible for Catholic institutions to comply with a rule that violates their fundamental beliefs respecting the dignity of human life. They will either be forced to drop health coverage for their employees altogether or close their doors. They have vowed to sue if Congress doesn’t reverse the mandate.

This is only the first of hundreds of liberty-crushing mandates to come from ObamaCare, and other religious leaders understand the threat. More than 2,500 evangelical and ministry leaders from a wide range of religious denominations signed a letter from the Family Research Council in February opposing Obama’s new mandate. They know they could be next.

President Obama tried to calm the waters by announcing in February he would issue a rule at some point in the future requiring health plans to provide the services for free so religious institutions won’t have to pay. But his proposed “accommodation” is meaningless.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explained the “promised ‘accommodation’ still forces them to pay for ‘services’ that violate their religious convictions.… Since there is no other source, the funds to pay for that coverage must come from the premiums of the employer and fellow employees, even those who object in conscience.”

Who Pays for It?

During a congressional hearing, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) asked HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the economics of requiring insurers to provide birth control for free.

“Who pays for it? There’s no such thing as a free service,” Murphy asked.

“The reduction in the number of pregnancies compensates for cost of contraception,” Sebelius answered.

“So you are saying, by not having babies born, we are going to save money on health care?” Murphy asked in astonishment.

He could have asked a follow-up question: Should the government then require all health plans to cover abortion because that is surely cheaper than bringing a new baby into the world? In fact, Washington State is on the verge of passing legislation that would require any health plan that covers maternity care to also pay for abortions. Will “free” coverage of euthanasia be next under ObamaCare?

As Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote to his fellow bishops, “We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it.” This law—and this mandate—cannot stand. Religious liberty must prevail, but it appears it will take a new president and a new Senate to pass legislation guaranteeing this Constitutional right.

Grace-Marie Turner ([email protected]) is president of the Galen Institute andcoauthor of Why ObamaCare Is Wrong for America (Broadside/HarperCollins, 2011).