On January 20, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius finalized regulations for preventive services under Obamacare that require religious institutions beyond churches to provide and pay for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization in their health coverage. The mandate violates the teachings and beliefs of many religious institutions and puts their ministries of service to millions at risk. It tramples religious liberty, and it has rightly offended many Americans.
The quotations below from sources across the political spectrum are just a sampling of the outcry against the Obamacare mandate on preventive services. They show the significance of the backlash and the profound nature of the principles at stake.
As rumors of “compromise” on the details of the mandate drift through political and press circles, it is critical to remember that no simple, superficial fix can remedy the problem. No tweaks or additional exemptions can resolve the fundamental problem caused by Obamacare’s central design flaw: Centralizing health care erodes civil society and forces individuals and institutions to hand over to bureaucrats the moral compass and their freedom to make private health decisions.
Only repealing the Obamacare statute can solve the fundamental problems for religious liberty—and freedom generally—raised by these and many other voices:
Washington Post editorial board: “The administration’s feint at a compromise—giving [religiously-affiliated] employers another year to figure out how to comply with the requirement—is unproductive can-kicking that fails to address the fundamental problem of requiring religiously affiliated entities to spend their own money in a way that contradicts the tenets of their faith.…[T]he significance of the new health-care law is that the federal government will for the first time require all employers to provide insurance coverage for their workers—in other words, to spend their own money to help underwrite this coverage—or, in many cases, to pay a penalty. In this circumstance, requiring a religiously affiliated employer to spend its own money in a way that violates its religious principles does not make an adequate accommodation for those deeply held views.”
Source: “Respecting religious exemptions,” Washington Post, January 22, 2012
USA Today editorial board: “Few Americans of any political stripe would disagree with the simple proposition that the government should steer away from meddling in church affairs. Certainly, it should never try to force a religiously affiliated institution to violate a central tenet of its faith. Yet in drawing up the rules that will govern health care reform, the Obama administration didn’t just cross that line. It galloped over it, requiring employers affiliated with the Catholic Church to include free birth control in their health insurance plans. That’s contrary to both Catholic doctrine and constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.”
Source: “Contraception mandate violates religious freedom,” USA Today editorial, February 7, 2012
David Brooks, New York Times: “Every once in a while, the Obama administration will promulgate a policy that is truly demoralizing. A willingness to end the District of Columbia school voucher program was one such case. The decision to force Catholic social service providers to support contraception and other practices that violate their creed is another. These decisions are demoralizing because they make it harder to conduct a serious antipoverty policy….[F]aith motivates people to serve. Faith turns lives around. You want to do everything possible to give these faithful servants room and support so they can improve the spiritual, economic and social ecology in poor neighborhoods. The administration’s policies on school vouchers and religious service providers are demoralizing because they weaken this ecology by reducing its diversity. By ending vouchers, the administration reduced the social intercourse between neighborhoods. By coercing the religious charities, it is teaching the faithful to distrust government, to segregate themselves from bureaucratic overreach, to pull inward.”
Source: “Flood the Zone,” New York Times, February 6, 2012
Kathleen Parker, Washington Post: “Catholic institutions are under siege by the federal government vis-a-vis the Affordable Care Act, which requires nearly all employers to provide health insurance that covers contraception, including in some cases abortifacient drugs. The Obama administration insists that these offerings are part of women’s health and should be made easily available; Catholics, both liberal and conservative, believe that these requirements are the edge of the wedge. Essentially, the new law forces them either to forfeit their most fundamental beliefs or to face prohibitive penalties—or to close hospitals, schools and other charities, with catastrophic consequences for millions who depend on them. For perspective, one in six patients in the United States is cared for in a Catholic hospital.”
Source: “Komen, Catholics and the cost of conscience,” The Washington Post, February 3, 2012
Kathleen Parker, cont., Washington Post: “We’re actually not having a debate about birth control. To repeat: The debate is about freedom of conscience. It ain’t about the Pill.…As to the separation of church and state argument that church critics keep raising, keep in mind that this separation was also intended to protect religious believers from state interference. When the state insists that one’s religious beliefs be supplanted by another’s, in this case by secularism, then might one argue that the state is establishing a religion in contravention of the Constitution’s intent?…Catholic leaders are justified in their outrage, especially those who helped Obama with health-care reform and now feel betrayed. Exhibit A: Sister Carol Keehan, CEO of the Catholic Health Association, who supported the health-care act with assurances from Obama that Catholics’ rights of conscience would be protected, despite criticism from many other Catholic leaders. She has now met the crowded underside of Obama’s bus.”
Source: “Obama runs roughshod over religious freedom,” The Washington Post, February 8, 2012
Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Health Association of the United States, Catholic Health World: “CHA and its members were profoundly disappointed to learn that the definition of a religious employer was not going to be broadened in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ rules for preventive services for women. The impact of being told we do not fit the new definition of a religious employer and therefore cannot operate our ministries following our consciences has jolted us. The contributions of Catholic health care, education and social services to this country’s development are legion. They have responded to the needs of all, not just Catholics. They have been delivered by many who do not share our faith, but share our commitment. From President Thomas Jefferson to President Barack Obama, we have been promised a respect for appropriate religious freedom. The first amendment to our Constitution affirms it. We are a pluralistic country, and it takes respectful dialogue to sort this out fairly. This decision was a missed opportunity.”
Source: “Something has to be fixed,” Catholic Health World, February 15, 2012
Michael Sean Winters, author of Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats, National Catholic Reporter: “Religion is not something we only do on Sunday morning and do amongst ourselves.…The administration’s logic seems to be that when a poor person comes to a Catholic soup kitchen, we should not ask if he is hungry, we should ask if he is Catholic. Sorry, but that is not how we conceive of our Catholic mission and social justice Catholics should be the first to recognize this instead of shamefully making apologies for the administration or bashing the bishops or shifting the conversation away from these first principles into a defense of contraception.…It is time for so-called progressive Catholics to stop serving as chaplains to the political status quo and recognize a first principle when they see one. It is time for Catholics to insist that a conscience exemption that only applies to religion on Sunday and no help for the poor unless they are also Catholic is no conscience exemption at all.”
Source: “Compromise? Not So Fast,” National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2012
Chicago Tribune editorial board: “The Obama administration, by not providing a broad conscience exception for this insurance mandate, is denying the church’s right—protected by the First Amendment—to freely practice its faith. This mandate sets up an agonizing dilemma for church institutions. The Rev. John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, succinctly summarized it in a letter last year to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: ‘This would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the Church’s moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and student health care plans in violation of the Church’s social teaching. It is an impossible position.….Here the administration is dealing with a matter of faith, a matter of conscience. It should reverse this decision, to protect religious freedom.”
Source: “A matter of faith: HHS should provide a broader conscience exemption on contraceptive coverage,” Chicago Tribune, February 3, 2012
Washington Times editorial board: “The merits of contraception or the consciences of individual Catholics is not the primary issue here. This is about the role of government and the scope of Obamacare. It may have come as a surprise that the HHS secretary had the power to dictate the fine print of everyone’s health care coverage. During the debates over Obamacare, religiously affiliated health care providers were promised that they would receive a ‘conscience waiver’ for any provisions of the law that created this kind of moral dilemma. This is what then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Democrat, dismissively referred to as ‘this conscience thing.’ It’s an important illustration of why it is important to know what is in legislation before it is passed.”
Source: “Obama’s lack of conscience: Administration birth-control policy violates Catholic views,” The Washington Times, February 7, 2012
William McGurn, Wall Street Journal: “[T]his is far more than a ‘Catholic’ issue. At a minimum, it means higher taxes and less efficiency for all if the government picks up the slack. The Founders did not intend the federal government to be limited only by law. They also wanted it limited by a public square thick with private social institutions. The American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks notes that more than half of all the civic institutions in American life have a religious purpose or affiliation—and that our liberty is linked to theirs.…At last week’s National Prayer Breakfast, the president harkened back to his 2008 script, talking up how his own faith informs his public decisions. What people see these days, however, is the candidate who derided small-town Americans as ‘bitter’ people clinging ‘to guns or religion.’ Turns out he was more correct than he knew. Except that what these Americans are clinging to might better be described as the Second and First Amendments.”
Source: “Obama and the ‘Bitter’ Clingers—Round Two,” Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2012
Yuval Levin, National Review Online: “The particulars of what the Obamacare insurance mandate rule does, and the unwillingness of the administration to exempt religious employers, are just stunning. Religious institutions are basically going to be fined for holding views regarding contraception, sterilization, and abortion that are different from the Obama administration’s views.…[W]hat is at issue in the controversy over the administration’s rule is not just the question of religious liberty but the question of non-governmental institutions in a free society.…In this arena, as in a great many others, the administration is clearly determined to see civil society as merely an extension of the state, and to clear out civil society—clearing out the mediating layers between the individual and the state—when it seems to stand in the way of achieving the president’s agenda. The idea is to leave as few non-individual players as possible in the private sphere, and to turn those few that are left into agents of the government. This is the logic of a lot of the administration’s approach to the private economy, not just to civil society. It is key to the design of Obamacare…of significant portions of Dodd-Frank…and of much of the regulatory agenda of the left. And it is all the more so the character of the administration’s approach to charitable institutions. It is an attack on mediating institutions of all sorts, moved by the genuine belief that they are obstacles to a good society.
“This approach is especially noxious and pernicious when it is directed at religiously affiliated institutions—both because they deserve special standing and because they do some of the hardest and most needful work of charity and care in our society. We should use every available means to protect those institutions from this mortal danger, and that certainly includes resorting to the language of conscience and exemption. But as we do so, we should not forget that we are dealing with an instance of a larger and deeper danger, and we should do what we can to combat that danger in its own terms. It is perhaps the gravest threat to freedom in American life today.”
Source: “Religious liberty and civil society,” National Review Online, January 30, 2012
Wall Street Journal editorial board: “The country is being exposed to the raw political control that is the core of the Obama health-care plan, and Americans are seeing clearly for the first time how this will violate pluralism and liberty.…The entire thrust of ObamaCare is to standardize benefits and how they must be paid for and provided, regardless of individual choices or ethical convictions.…When politics determines who can or should receive what benefits, and who pays what for it, government will use its force to dictate the outcomes that it wants—either for reasons of cost, or to promote its values, which in this case means that ‘women’s health’ trumps religious conscience. …The White House is now trying to cauterize the political damage and saying it is open to some ‘compromise’ on its own contraception decision. But the rule is already final. HHS tried to sell it as a compromise when it was announced, and in any case HHS would revive this coercion whenever it is politically convenient some time in Mr. Obama’s second term. Religious liberty won’t be protected from the entitlement state until ObamaCare is repealed.”
Source: “Obamacare’s Great Awakening,” The Wall Street Journal, (February 8, 2012)