REVISED: The threat to religious freedom: The Obama administration’s contraceptives mandate

By Staff
Jun 21, 2013


Under a regulation issued in January 2012 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly all insurance plans will be forced to provide their employees with free access to all FDA-approved contraceptives. This mandate includes coverage of abortion-inducing drugs like ella and Plan B (the “morning after” pill), abortion-causing IUDs, and sterilization. This mandate will force millions of Southern Baptists and other people of faith to violate their God-given and constitutionally-protected freedom of religion and conscience.

The original fact sheet was published February 24, 2012 and was revised June 21, 2013 to reflect the current status of the mandate. Download a PDF (221 KB) of this fact sheet.


Not only does the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mark the first time the U.S. government has forced citizens to purchase a product (health insurance), the HHS contraceptives mandate marks the first time people of faith have been forced by the government to purchase products that violate their consciences.


Some people say this is about contraception. It is not. Many Southern Baptists accept the use of non-abortive contraceptives within marriage. The HHS mandate goes far beyond that. It requires that all insurance plans provide coverage for abortion-causing products. This means employers, including faith-based organizations, must make insurance plans available to their employees in violation of their religious beliefs. It also means that either the employers or the employees will be required to pay for these products through their premium payments.

In effect, the Obama administration has declared that religious conviction about abortion is not an acceptable reason for exemption from this requirement. While the presenting offense is about abortion, the dominant issue is the government’s determination to violate the constitutionally-protected freedom of conscience. No one should be forced by the government to buy or subsidize products that result in the killing of innocent human beings in violation of their consciences. What is at stake is whether our nation will protect our God-given and constitutionally-protected freedom of religion and conscience fought for by our Baptist forebears.


The Obama administration’s very narrow religious exemption means that most religious groups will be required to provide access to contraceptives, including ones that cause abortions. Even under a rule proposed in January 2013, the religious exemption may not include organizations such as local Christian schools and soup kitchens or larger entities such as Christian universities that are not expressly tied to a house of worship. Institutions not covered by the narrow exemption will be forced to choose one of three untenable options:

  • Obey the law at the expense of their conscience.
  • Cease providing coverage—which would force the employees of these religious institutions to obtain coverage with offensive provisions and could subject the religious institution employer to fines if it is considered a large employer under applicable rules.
  • Provide coverage but without complying with the HHS mandate that assaults the religious institution’s conscience—which could result in fines to participants if their coverage through the religious institution employer is non-compliant.


According to the original mandate, the only accommodation afforded religious institutions was a one-year extension to comply. Practically, this meant religious employers morally opposed to the mandate were granted an additional year before they must begin violating their consciences. That one-year extension ends Aug. 1, 2013 January 1, 2014.


On multiple occasions, President Obama announced so-called “compromises.” One proposal was to supposedly exempt religiously-affiliated employers opposed to the mandate by allowing them to shift the burden of covering contraceptives and abortifacients to their insurance companies. This was merely an accounting gimmick. Employers would still have to make abortion-causing products available in the plans they offer their employees, and the insurance companies would be recovering the cost of these products indirectly through the premiums they charge. These so-called compromises were never formally adopted. Yet even if any of the president’s “compromises” are adopted by HHS, the violation of constitutionally-protected religious conscience remains.

In January 2013, HHS issued a “Notice of Proposed Rule Making” or NPRM. That proposed rule would provide relief for a slightly larger category of houses of worship and their integrated auxiliaries. This does nothing to provide relief for institutions which fall outside the administration’s narrow definition of “religious institution.” This includes many hospitals, universities, businesses, and schools. As of June 2013, more than 60 lawsuits have been filed challenging the mandate.


Neither the current HHS rule nor the so-called “compromise” provides an exemption for religious employers that self-insure, which means they serve as the source of benefit payments instead of contracting with a third party. That includes GuideStone Financial Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention’s medical plan provider covering tens of thousands of pastors, church workers, professors, secretaries, social workers, missionaries, other agency workers, and their families. The HHS mandate reflects a sobering disregard for the unique and historic structure and role of self-insured medical programs like GuideStone and other large and established church health plans, as well as a shocking encroachment on religious freedom.


If the HHS mandate is not overturned or changed, many employers whose consciences are violated will have to stop providing insurance for their employees. As a result, when these employees seek to purchase their own insurance plans, they will find that the Obama administration’s mandate requires every insurance plan to pay for these abortion-causing products and services. This will mean that all of us whose consciences are violated by this morally reprehensible mandate will be forced to choose between paying for these products and services, whether we use them or not, or not having insurance for ourselves and our families and paying a government fine for not having insurance.


In recent decades, most conflicts over the church-state relationship have had to do with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, with debates about the appropriate role of faith in public life. The HHS mandate is the culmination of a shift in church-state relations that has been emerging over the last decade or so, in which the conflict has gone from potential violations of the Establishment Clause to actual violations of the Free Exercise Clause. The HHS mandate is a direct assault on how people of faith can conduct their own lives according to the dictates of their consciences. The mandate puts the federal government in the position of imposing its will on the conscience by executive edict, casting aside individual conscience and religious freedom.


If the federal government can force religious employers and people of faith to purchase products that offend their faith and conscience, what can’t it force them to do?


Jesus instructed us to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” How now shall we respond when Caesar demands what is God’s?

An effort to protect the freedoms of religion and conscience is taking form on Capitol Hill as the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940 / S. 1204). This would safeguard employers and individuals from being forced to violate their religious convictions on contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs under health care.

With our God-given and constitutionally-protected freedoms of religion and conscience at stake, the church cannot afford to be silent.

The original fact sheet was published February 24, 2012 and was revised June 21, 2013 to reflect the current status of the mandate. Download a PDF (221 KB) of this fact sheet.

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