The National Catholic Bioethics Center (the NCBC) consistently has voiced its strong opposition to the mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that all employers provide insurance coverage free of charge to their employees for contraceptives, surgical sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs and devices. There was widespread outrage to this measure which was seen by many as an attempt to force religious organizations to violate their moral convictions and religious beliefs by providing drugs, procedures and devices that they considered to be immoral because they violated human dignity. The opposition was so strong and from so many different quarters that President Obama proposed what he called a “compromise” on Friday, February 10.
The NCBC has been involved in providing analyses of the “compromise” to its various constituents and collaborating with others involved with trying to influence public policy. As soon as the government documents were actually made available and studied, it became obvious that there was no true compromise at all but rather some slight modifications to procedure that left the substance of the mandate entirely intact. In fact, the day the “compromise” was announced, the mandate was entered into the federal register with no changes.
Since the announcement of the “compromise” organizations of varied religious beliefs and political affiliation have called upon President Obama to withdraw the HHS mandate in its entirety.
Some of the fundamental reasons the “Mandate” must continue to be opposed are:
The unacceptable definition of what constitutes a religion for protection under the constitution. HHS has determined that for an organization to qualify for a “religious” exemption it must hire and serve primarily its own co-religionists and try to convert those who do not share the same faith. This unconscionably narrow definition of what constitutes a religion would not cover the Catholic Church in its own self understanding. In other words, it would not even cover the largest religious body in the United States. It is a matter of religious belief that Catholics are commanded to serve all in need not just its own co-religionists.
This goes to the heart of the teachings of the Church’s founder who told the pointed story of the man who had fallen among thieves and been left beaten by the roadside. His co-religionists passed him by, but the one who did not share his faith, the Good Samaritan, is the one who stopped to help him and bind up his wounds. Jesus told us to go and o likewise and that even as we have done a service to the least of our neighbors, we have done it to Him. It is unjustifiable for the federal government, by bureaucratic fiat, to make the arbitrary judgment concerning what organization constitutes a religion. This is one area where the mandate violates the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
It is often pointed out that this narrow definition of religion is in place in a number of states already. That is not accurate: there are only three states with such a narrow definition of religion, with some options for being exempt from state law, e.g., through self-insurance plans. Such options are not available under the HHS mandate. Furthermore, the Catholic Church fought these narrow definitions of religion in the states without success. Why should it simply acquiesce when they are imposed by the federal government?
The unacceptable definition of what constitutes a disease or pathology, in this case, fertility and pregnancy. Contraceptives and surgically mutilating acts such as tubal ligations are included in the Mandate as means of preventing disease rather than being seen for what they are, drugs and surgical interventions that actually destroy or render dysfunctional an otherwise health system of the body. Abortifacient drugs and devices are also offered as preventions for disease as though preventing an embryo from implanting in the nurturing womb of his or her mother were the prevention of a pathology. Such errors of fact cannot go unchallenged, no matter who asserts them.
The unacceptable and arbitrary shifting of an unjustifiable federal mandate from one group of citizens to another. In an attempt to forge a compromise the Obama administration first of all created a new category of citizens – those who did not enjoy the HHS religious exemption because they were not really “religious”, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, but who still had religious objections. According to the “compromise”, the proposal to be considered is that they would not have to provide insurance to cover the costs of the contraceptives, mutilations and abortifacient drugs and devices – but now the insurance companies themselves would have to provide them at their cost. Of course everyone understands that insurance companies would be certain to recover their costs through the premiums charged to the (non-exempt, but now indulged) organization that has religious and moral scruples about providing these drugs and devices. Also, no provision was made for many religious organizations who are self-insured. How are they to avoid the coercive measures accompanying the mandate, such as the heavy fines.
As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and many others have insisted, this mandate is a violation of the First Amendment and must be rescinded. It is also unnecessary, harmful and in violation of human dignity. Those who have embraced the mandate have ignored the constitutional questions it raises in favor of secondary issues such as women’s access to contraception under the euphemistic and misguided term “women’s health”, or the perceived good of universal health care. The moral issues related to the latter two are significant and should be addressed. This issue, however, must not be allowed to be diluted by arguments about the morality of sterilization, abortifacient drugs and devices, and contraception. Every American should feel challenged by this egregious violation of constitutional freedom.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Christian Medical Association, The Southern Baptist Convention, some Jewish groups, the Catholic Medical Association, a group of highly regarded Catholic scholars, individual religious leaders, and many others have all decried the president’s mandate and the so-called “compromise” which leaves the mandate in place as a violation of the Constitution of the United States and potentially of the consciences of the citizens of the United States. We are pleased to provide links to what we believe are some of the best commentaries on this wrong-headed policy of the Obama administration.