Sometimes the White House gets the easy questions wrong. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked about a controversial mandate stemming from Obamacare that would require religious employers to provide insurance coverage for birth control despite religious objections.
The regulation in question, released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), falls under the category of “preventative services” and would require almost all health insurance plans to cover everything from all FDA-approved contraceptives to sterilizations—without cost to the insured. The mandate includes coverage of controversial drugs like ella—which can abort an early pregnancy. Religious employers with serious moral objections to providing coverage for such services will find little help in the mandate’s narrow religious exemption. Since it was first proposed in August, the mandate has received harsh criticism with regard to its treatment of conscience rights.
It should be easy to conclude that upholding the religious rights of individuals and institutions is the optimal choice. But the White House appears bent on stifling that freedom with this mandate.
Carney assured reporters, “We want to strike the right balance between expanding coverage of preventive services and respecting religious beliefs.”
But the mandate requires religious employers to provide coverage for birth control methods that could result in abortion, a serious erosion of religious liberty in America.
Despite a religious exemption in the Obamacare HHS contraception mandate, many religious employers are not likely to get off the hook. The religious exemption is available only for organizations with a primary mission to “inculcate religious values”—which could exclude many religious service providers, among others.
But religious employers, like all Americans, won’t accept the mandate’s narrow definition for what constitutes religious exemption. As written, the religious freedom of organizations or entities with a religious affiliation that offer social services or help to people in need may not be protected.
Former Heritage research fellow Chuck Donovan noted that, though “federal law requires respect for the conscience of health care providers on many of these issues…the new HHS guidelines show disrespect for freedom of conscience.”
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health found the exemption so narrow that they held a hearing to discuss its severe threat to conscience rights. As witnesses testified, no American should be forced to choose between compromising their beliefs or obeying government regulations—and that’s exactly what this mandate would force upon religious employers.
By failing to protect the rights of these dedicated religious organizations, who often provide services without regard to the recipients’ religion, the government does a disservice to American citizens who rely on them. Religious organizations often meet crucial health care, education, and social needs in society, something the government should reward, not punish.
The uproar surrounding the mandate is heating up everywhere. Belmont Abbey, a private Catholic college in North Carolina, has partnered with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to sue HHS over the mandate. The mandate would force the college to provide insurance plans for students and employees that cover procedures and prescriptions the college finds morally objectionable.
The Obama Administration has already pandered to the liberal, abortion-rights community on this issue, and it’s time for them to recognize this wrong choice. If Obama wants to uphold American religious liberty as it was intended, he should alter the mandate’s offensively narrow religious exemption and allow conscience rights and religious freedom to flourish.