Last Word Not Heard on Health Care

COMMENTARY Religious Liberty

Last Word Not Heard on Health Care

Jul 16, 2012 3 min read

Former Senior Visiting Fellow

Jennifer A. Marshall was a senior visiting fellow for the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation.
The Supreme Court decision letting the national health care law stand isn't the last word on “Obamacare.” Not in federal courts, not in Congress and not in the court of public opinion. 
For one thing, despite the high court’s June 28 ruling, the massive transformation of the American health care system hasn't cleared other legal challenges. Twenty-three federal lawsuits have been filed against the law’s Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate. More than 50 plaintiffs have joined the suits, including Catholic and Protestant colleges, religious schools serving inner-city children and charities providing care for the abused and neglected. 
The HHS mandate takes effect Aug. 1, one the first of many expected rules to enforce the 2,700-page law. As employers renew health plans in the coming year, they will have to comply with the mandate’s coercive requirement to cover abortion drugs, contraception and sterilization -- regardless of religious or moral objections. 
A “religious exemption” effectively applies only to houses of worship. The federal government will force countless other religious employers -- including schools, hospitals and charities -- to provide coverage for the mandated services despite moral or religious objections. Why? Simply because these employers step outside the four walls of a church to serve others. 
Religious employers may be able to get a one-year delay of enforcement if they meet certain conditions. But this “safe harbor” applies only to certain non-profit organizations. It won’t help family business owners who want to run their companies without having to check their faith and morals at the door. 
Take the Newland family of Denver, who own and operate an HVAC company called Hercules Industries. They happen to be practicing Catholics. A suit on their behalf was filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund, or ADF), seeking a preliminary injunction by Aug. 1 so that the family isn’t forced to violate their religious beliefs as they plan for a new year of health coverage.
While the Newlands and other plaintiffs wait for courts to act on behalf of their religious liberty, Congress is taking action to do the same. The House voted 244-185 on July 11 for complete repeal of “Obamacare.” The repeal bill made a 10-point case, arguing that Americans deserve health care reform that better meets their needs, protects their wallets and respects their consciences. 
The repeal bill criticized the new law for disregarding conscience on one of the mostly deeply divisive issues in American society: “While President Obama promised that nothing in the law would fund elective abortion, the law expands the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion.” In addition to “subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions,” the law “effectively forces millions of individuals to personally pay a separate abortion premium in violation of their sincerely held religious, ethical, or moral beliefs.”
The repeal bill specified that the law new “creates a new nationwide requirement for health plans to cover ‘essential health benefits’ and ‘preventive services,’ but does not allow stakeholders to opt out of covering items or services to which they have a religious or moral objection, in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” 
To protect religious liberty in particular, and individual liberty generally, Obamacare must be repealed.
The court of public opinion long since reached that conclusion. In 100 consecutive surveys of likely voters over two years, the Rasmussen polling firm found that a majority supported repealing the health care law. The week after the Supreme Court decision, Rasmussen reported that 53 percent want to see the law repealed, with 41 percent opposed. 
Other polls earlier this year showed strong majorities oppose the government’s forcing institutions or individuals with religious objections to provide coverage for products or services that violate their religious beliefs. 
Now it’s up to the American people and our elected representatives to chart a course toward better health care reform. In place of the current law, policymakers should design measures that reduce costs, increase access and leave personal health care decisions where they belong: in the hands of consumers free to exercise their conscience. 
Jennifer A. Marshall is director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation and author of the book “Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century.” On Twitter: @MarshallJenA 

First appeared in McClatchy-Tribune wire service.