The Obama administration is considering implementing a new rule regarding Obamacare and whether insurance companies will be forced to include birth control and drugs that can possibly cause abortions under “preventative care.”
The contraception mandate rule has drawn strong opposition from pro-life groups — in part because the religious exemption it contains is very narrow and could force certain Catholic and other religious groups to pay for insurance coverage for employees. They say that violates its conscience rights and religious views because of the birth control coverage and coverage for drugs like the morning after pill and ella that can cause abortions.
Members of the Obama administration held various meetings with activists on both sides of the issue late last week. Senate Democrats voiced their objections to expanding the religious exemption in a conference call with Pete Rouse, counselor to the president, on Thursday. House Democrats made their objections known in a similar meeting with Valerie Jarrett, another top Obama advisor on domestic issues.
Representative Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat who is the head of pro-abortion forces in the House, told the New York Times, “Millions of women work for colleges, hospitals and health care systems that are nominally religious, but these folks use birth control and need coverage.”
Abortion advocates are putting political pressure on Obama not to widen the exemption, with pro-abortion Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, saying on Friday, “it’s going to be tough to ask for women’s votes in 2012 if their last impression of him [Obama] is his willingness to trade their health coverage options for politics.”
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, met privately with Obama last week.
“I found the President of the United States to be very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community. I left there feeling a bit more at peace about this issue than when I entered,” he said, according to Catholic Online.
That upset Lowey, who said, “Let me say this: I don’t have first hand information that the lobby is stronger on the other side, but the fact that the White House is asking for opinions and advice makes it clear to me they’ve been very powerful.”
The rules already include an exemption for certain “religious employers,” but the Catholic bishops have said “even the ministry of Jesus and the early Christian Church would not qualify as ‘religious,’ because they did not confine their ministry to their co-religionists.” They added the “exemption is directly at odds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus teaches concern and assistance for those in need, regardless of faith differences.”
They want the exemption widened to include any nonprofit organization operating with a religious mission.
Writing at the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters says if Obama fails to widen the religious exemption, he can kiss away any real effort to win over Catholic voters in 2012 — including those who supported him in 2008 despite his pro-abortion position.
“If Obama decides not to enlarge the conscience exemption, he can forget about Catholic outreach in 2012 and beyond,” Winters writes. “I cannot think of a single decision he could make that would more certainly feed the GOP-inspired narrative that the Democrats are hostile to religion. I do not believe the President is hostile to religion, but if he fails to expand the conscience exemption, I could not make the case with a straight face.”
“Democrats who hope to be running for office next year or in 2016 should be calling the White House now and urging the White House not to undo the years of effort to build bridges to moderate Catholics who are, according to all the polls, the quintessential swing voters,” he said.
The administration has initially approved a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine suggesting that it force insurance companies to pay for birth control and drugs that can cause abortions under the Obamacare government-run health care program.
The IOM recommendation, opposed by pro-life groups, called for the Obama administration to require insurance programs to include birth control — such as the morning after pill or the ella drug that causes an abortion days after conception — in the section of drugs and services insurance plans must cover under “preventative care.” The companies will likely pass the added costs on to consumers, requiring them to pay for birth control and, in some instances, drug-induced abortions of unborn children in their earliest days.
The HHS accepted the IOM guidelines that “require new health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive services” and those services include “FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling” — which include birth control drugs like Plan B and ella that can cause abortions. The Health and Human Services Department commissioned the report from the Institute, which advises the federal government and shut out pro-life groups in meetings leading up to the recommendations.
Jeanne Monahan of the Family Research Council has commented on the religious exemption issue.
“HHS offered a fig leaf of conscience protection for certain churches that fulfill very specific criteria. However, religious groups that provide social services, engage in missions work to people of different religious faiths, religious health insurance companies, let alone religious health care providers and individuals in such health plans are not protected from any discrimination whatever. The new rule will force many Americans to violate their consciences or refrain from participating in health care insurance, further burdening an already costly system,” Monahan said.
“For an administration that promised to protect conscience laws in effect now, this decision completely ignores opinion, research and science that do not support a pro-abortion ideology. In the words of one of the committee members who objected to the IOM recommendations, the ‘evaluation for evidence lacked transparency … the process tended to result in a mix of objective and subjective determination through the lens of advocacy,” Monahan continued. “This administration is promoting mandates that will violate the consciences of millions.”
Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest also weighed in in opposition to it.
“Ideologically-driven recommendations became policy,” Yoest noted, “when the Obama Administration adopted the Institute of Medicine recommendations. Nearly every American will be forced to pay for the abortion-inducing drug ella in the name of ‘preventive care.’ In addition, the conscience rights of Americans who choose not to distribute life-ending prescriptions may be trampled.”
As part of the health care reform process, AUL’s attorneys testified about the guidelines during hearings held by the Institute of Medicine. However, among the groups chosen to effectively help write the health care plan for all Americans was Planned Parenthood.
AUL attorneys noted that the Obama Administration has offered an exceedingly narrow conscience protection that leaves the majority of pro-life Americans vulnerable by so narrowly defining the concept of “religious employer,” that most religious schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations would be excluded from its protection. Moreover, an organization such as AUL and its sister organization, Americans United for Life Action — with pro-life missions, but no religious affiliation — are unquestionably unprotected by the Administration’s fig-leaf conscience protection.