Revised contraceptive mandate is no compromise

By Doug Carlson
Feb 15, 2012

Three weeks to the day after the Department of Health and Human Services mandated that all employers, with the exception of most churches, must provide contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization free of charge under their health insurance plans, the administration announced a so-called compromise in an attempt to extinguish a firestorm it created among the faith community and beyond.

In reality, the revision fails to quell concerns, changing virtually nothing. It is, as Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, put it in a Feb. 10 statement, a “distinction without a difference.”

To read Dr. Richard Land’s statement following the Obama administration’s Feb. 10 revised contraceptives mandate, please click here. To read the commentary by Drs. Land and Barrett Duke concerning the administration’s initial mandate announced Jan. 20, please click here.

Under the administration’s revised mandate, religiously-affiliated employers, such as schools, hospitals and soup kitchens, would not have to provide coverage for contraceptives or sterilization if they have moral objections. Instead, the insurance companies would foot the bill. This supposed “accommodation” is problematic in more ways than one.

For starters, the shift from employer to insurance company is an accounting gimmick, pure and simple. Most people understand that insurance companies do not have a free pot of money. At the end of the day, the employers, and in turn the employees, would still be the ones carrying the bill in higher premiums. It now becomes a matter of direct versus indirect funding. It simply triggers a chain of religious freedom violations, from insurer to employer to employee.

Which raises a second problem: Insurance companies, too, with moral objections to the mandate will be forced to violate their consciences. The revised mandate provides no exemption for them, mainly just churches that meet a narrowly defined set of criteria.

This leads to a third, also largely ignored, problem: What conscience protections are afforded to businesses that are secular in nature but happen to be run by people who are, for example, Christians who oppose abortion? Under the latest compromise, none. They, too, receive no exemption.

Fourth, the Feb. 10 “compromise” fails to consider religious insurers that are self-insured. As one example, GuideStone Financial Resources—the insurer of the Southern Baptist Convention, covering some 200,000 pastors, professors, missionaries and other agency workers—is self-insured. That means GuideStone does not rely on a third party to pay health insurance benefits; payments come directly from GuideStone accounts.

Recognizing these types of problems, 36 senators and 186 congressmen, led by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), are cosponsoring the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (S. 1467/H.R. 1179) to ensure that basic conscience protections are provided under the 2010 health care law. The bill is “a much-needed antidote to the infringement on religious freedom and conscience that will soon hit the American people under the administration’s contraceptives mandate,” wrote Land in a letter Tuesday to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Importantly, the Senate could vote this week on the measure as an amendment to a transportation bill (S. 1813).

The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act gets to the heart of the troubling manner in which the media and the administration largely have framed the mandate: a Catholic and a contraceptives issue. To be sure, the issue includes the two “C’s,” but it is much more. Fundamentally, it is “a clear violation of our nation’s commitment to liberty of conscience and a flagrant violation of our constitutional protection to freedom of religion,” as Land and Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, described it in a Feb. 7 statement.

What remains certain amid the fluid semantics of the HHS mandate is that religious freedom, enshrined in our First Amendment, is not up for compromise. Our “first freedom” is not up for bargain or sale.

To minimize the mandate as a matter simply affecting one religious body misses the much deeper, underlying concern at play. Religious liberty—the God-given right for individuals to make decisions based on their religiously informed consciences—is what’s really at stake. And to cede ground here is to seed and birth a leviathan government with an appetite whetted to strangle and devour our “first freedom” on many other fronts in the days ahead.

If you agree that organizations and individuals should be afforded conscience protections against such things as abortion under the 2010 health care law, please urge your senators and representatives to cosponsor the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (S. 1467/H.R. 1179). For more information, please click here to read Dr. Richard Land’s letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell expressing support for the bill. To read Dr. Land’s statement following the Obama administration’s Feb. 10 revised contraceptives mandate, please click here. To read the commentary by Drs. Land and Barrett Duke following the administration’s initial mandate announced Jan. 20, please click here.

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