Obama Administration Puts an Expiration Date on Freedom of Conscience

Americans United for Life
Friday, January 20th, 2012
Reproduced with permission

Anna Franzonello

Today the Obama Administration added insult to injury, announcing that it would give some religious nonprofits an additional year to “adapt” to its coercive mandate that nearly all insurance plans provide coverage for the abortion-inducing drug ella. Essentially, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that these employers have one more year to get their priorities straight and align their consciences with the anti-life agenda of the Obama Administration.

Secretary Sebelius stated the “extension” for nonprofit groups with a religious-based objection to providing coverage for “contraception,” was “the appropriate balance” for “respecting religious freedom.”

Putting an expiration date on the freedom of conscience is not a “balance”; it is an utter denial of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Despite numerous comments to HHS (including from Americans United for Life) and pending litigation noting that the Obama Administration’s mandate to pay for drugs and devices with life-ending mechanisms of action—including the abortion-inducing drug ella – is unconstitutional, against current federal and state conscience protections, and directly contrary to the stated intent of the “preventive care” provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama Administration is standing by its coercive mandate, eviscerating the freedom of conscience and freedom of choice for pro-life Americans.

Even the one year extension of constitutional rights announced by HHS is inappropriately limited in who it applies to.

Only nonprofit employers who do not currently, as of today, offer “contraceptive” coverage –for religious based reasons— are eligible. This is problematic in several ways.

First, the Obama Administration’s mandate is expansive: insurance plans must cover all FDA-approved contraceptives, which includes ella a so-called “emergency contraceptive” which can “work” by killing a human embryo even after implantation. Secretary Sebelius’ statement in no way indicates that an employer who has a conscientious objection to providing coverage for a drug such as ella, but perhaps not other FDA-labeled contraceptives, is allowed a year “to adapt” its conscience. Rather, she stated that only nonprofit employers who do not provide, generally, “contraceptive coverage” are eligible for the extension.

Second, this certainly excludes any employer who may not know its plan currently provides coverage for drugs and devices with life-ending mechanisms of action, such as ella (a drug that was only approved in August 2010, after the passage of the ACA). Should you discover later that a morally objectionable item or service is in your coverage, or if you were currently in the process of negotiating it out of your plan: too bad, so sad.

Third, and importantly, freedom of religion is a core American principle, but it is important the concept of conscience not be narrowly defined as a religious. Non-religiously affiliated persons and institutions (whether nonprofits of for-profits) have consciences that can likewise be violated by mandates and coercive participation in healthcare services that violate their consciences nonetheless.

Conscience is at the heart of the American experience. Most Americans recognize the religious freedom found in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. What Americans may not realize is that an early draft of the Amendment written by James Madison included the following: “The Civil Rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, nor on any pretext infringed.” Though not included in the final version, it is fair to say that it was assumed by the Founders to be included therein.

Further, even those religious nonprofits who qualify for a one-year extension will be, according to Secretary Sebelius, required to “state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support.” Thus, part of the Obama Administration’s “adapting” process is to facilitate—regardless of any conscientious concern in doing so—obtaining the drugs and devices to which the religious nonprofits object.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s announcement today clarifies that it will not consider the legitimate and serious concerns of pro-life Americans who conscientiously object to paying for drugs and devices with life-ending mechanisms of action, including the abortion-inducing drug ella. Once again, for Secretary Sebelius and the Obama Administration, its anti-life agenda trumps basic constitutionally-guaranteed rights.

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