Religious Liberty: Obamacare’s Unconscionable Casualty

COMMENTARY Religious Liberty

Religious Liberty: Obamacare’s Unconscionable Casualty

Feb 28, 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.

Like an unpleasant medical exam, President Obama apparently wanted to get this over quickly. But there are complications.

Many Americans are deeply troubled by abortion-inducing drugs such as the morning-after pill and the week-after drug Ella—what some call “emergency contraception.” So when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced in August that under Obamacare all insurance plans must cover abortion-inducing drugs, the backlash should not have been surprising.

Yet the Obama administration offered just the narrowest of exemptions, shielding only houses of worship from the state’s forced violations of conscience. Religious employers —among them Catholic hospitals, Christian schools and faith-based soup kitchens—would still have to issue insurance for abortion-inducing drugs they find objectionable.

The outcry was intense and widespread across Catholic, Protestant and Jewish groups, as well as others. Some of President Obama’s stalwart allies couldn’t defend his decision. By early February the pressure had built up so much that the Obama administration decided the boil must be lanced.

On Feb. 10, President Obama called a press conference to announce an “accommodation” for religious groups. He said he would force insurance companies to provide these abortion drugs for “free,” thus “relieving” the burden on the conscience of religious employers.

The proposal had just three problems.

First, it didn’t resolve the moral quandary at the heart of the matter. There’s no such thing as “free” contraception—emergency or otherwise. Insurance companies simply would increase premiums for religious groups, shifting the cost for the offensive services back to them.

Nor would the purported solution be workable for the many religious groups that self-insure. They don’t wish to ignore their conscience by outsourcing these dilemmas to an insurance company.

Third, the announcement didn’t end up being an accommodation at all. The president said one thing at noon and contradicted it by day’s end. Within hours of his press conference, the administration had filed the final regulation exactly as written in August—without changing so much as a comma.

The policy that prompted the uproar by trampling religious liberty is now in law. Nothing has changed.

More than 2,500 religious leaders signed a letter calling on the president to reverse the government mandate because it “essentially ignores the conscience rights of many Catholic and Protestant Americans.” The letter was released Feb. 20 at the annual gathering of the National Religious Broadcasters in Nashville.

This isn’t the first time Americans experienced such duplicity at the hands of their government over Obamacare. Remember when the legislation was rushed through Congress and then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi told us they’d have to pass the 2,700-page bill to find out what was in it?

How about this repeated promise from President Obama: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.”

That’s not true for many religious groups that choose, on the basis of deeply held beliefs, not to subsidize services they find morally objectionable. Nor is it true for other employers who have made the same decision on the basis of conscience. And it will no longer be true for individuals who simply want an insurance plan consistent with their beliefs.

That’s because Obamacare will standardize health insurance in America, mandating what must be covered through an “essential benefits” package. Abortion-inducing drugs and contraception are just the beginning, some of the first concrete details of what will be required under the health care law.

What will the essential benefits package stipulate for end-of-life decisions, parental authority over minors’ health decisions, and prenatal genetic screening, to name just a few morally fraught concerns?

“There is a limit to what government can compel us to do or not do, particularly in matters of faith and conscience,” Dr. Laura Champion, medical director of Calvin College’s Health Services in Grand Rapids, Mich., said in testimony against Obamacare’s anti-conscience mandate at a recent congressional hearing. “It is in the best interest of all Americans, of every ideological stripe, that this limit, this line, not be crossed.”

The passage of Obamacare put the moral compass for some of our most personal health care decisions into the hands of bureaucrats. It’s already clear that this administration’s sense of direction is badly skewed.

Obamacare is on a collision course with Americans’ freedom, and an early unconscionable casualty is religious liberty.

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.”

First moved on the McClatchy Tribune wire service