Pro-Lifers: Tell Obama Admin to Protect Conscience Rights

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 7, 2011   |   12:25PM   |   Washington, DC

A top pro-life organization is encouraging pro-life advocates to contact the Obama administration and urge it to protect conscience rights for organizations that don’t want to be involved in promoting abortion, drugs that can cause abortions and birth control.

In August, Obama officials tentatively approved a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine, opposed by pro-life groups, that 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 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.

Now, taking advantage of the public comment period offer before the recommendation goes into effect, the Family Research Council is urging pro-life advocates to ask the Obama administration to reverse the decision that will force insurance companies to pay for birth control and drugs that can cause abortions under the Obamacare government-run health care program. The decision also compels, because of faulty conscience exemptions, many religious and pro-life groups to purchase the insurance despite their moral and religious objections.

“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) needs to hear your voice on a critical matter related to life and religious freedom,” FRC president Tony Perkins says today in an email to pro-life advocates. His encouragement to contact the Obama administration follows:

Because of a provision in Obamacare, HHS convened the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to make recommendations for what “preventive services for women” should be mandatory in all private health insurance, with no cost to the patient. The IOM committee (which included no pro-life representation) recommended in July that free coverage of all contraceptives and sterilization services be mandatory. HHS then on August 3rd issued a “regulation” accepting these recommendations, meaning all private health insurance plans in the individual and group market will be required to cover these services with no co-pay for the patient.

To be clear, the federal government is mandating that all private health insurance plans cover contraceptives and sterilization services (including those with abortifacient mechanisms of action) free of charge. Organizations that provide insurance to their employees will be forced to cover such services, even if they object. The effect is that the cost of these “free” services will be shifted to plan participants through higher premiums both to employees in employer sponsored plans, and to individuals in the individual insurance market.

The HHS regulation contains an exemption only for certain group plans, not insurance in the individual market. Moreover, the exemption is unacceptably narrow for churches, but would not include religious businesses or other organizations that have moral or religious objections to such coverage.

The mandate includes drugs deemed “contraceptives” by the FDA even if they can cause abortions like Plan B and Ella. (RU-486 is not included since the FDA approved it as an “abortifacient”.) Employers and people who object to these drugs should not be forced bear the costs for free abortions. This mandate will violate the conscience of millions of Americans, and it goes against the current conscience protections in law precisely to stop government discrimination.

HHS is receiving public comment only on the definition of “religious employer” that is so narrow as to only include churches, but not businesses or other groups. We are writing to ask that you speak up on behalf of life and conscience protections for all groups or individuals that have conscience objections to any contraceptives as well as those that can cause abortion. We urge you to submit “public comment” to HHS by clicking on the following link. FRC has provided suggested comments below.

All of the comments pro-life people submit against the recommendations will become a matter of public record. Perkins urges people wanting to comment to go here to send their comments.

Recently, the nation’s Catholic bishops sent their own public comments with concerns about the recommendations. The legal counsel for the Catholic bishops has submitted a 35-page comment saying the Obama administration’s decision “represents an unprecedented attack on religious liberty” and creates “serious moral problems” that are sufficient for it to not adopt the IOM recommendations. The Department of Health and Human Services has given the public until the end of the month to comment on the tentative decision to adopt the recommendations.

“Only rescission will eliminate all of the serious moral problems the mandate creates,” Anthony Picarello Jr. and Michael Moses, general counsel and associate general counsel, said. “Only rescission will correct HHS’ legally flawed interpretation of the term ‘preventive services.’“

The attorneys also said the bishops are concerned about the weak religious exemptions in the proposal.

The HHS statement also said, “The administration also released an amendment to the prevention regulation that allows religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services. This regulation is modeled on the most common accommodation for churches available in the majority of the 28 states that already require insurance companies to cover contraception.  HHS welcomes comment on this policy.”

Those exemptions would include a nonprofit religious employers that has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose, primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets, and serves persons who share its religious tenets. However, although the rule gives the agency the discretion to authorize a ‘religious’ exemption, it is so narrow as to exclude most Catholic social service agencies and healthcare providers. For example, under the new rule, Catholic institutions would be free to act in accord with Catholic teaching on life and procreation only if they were to stop hiring and serving non-Catholics.

The USCCB attorneys said the weak protection “represents an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government into the precincts of religion that, if unchecked here, will support ever more expansive and corrosive intrusions in the future.”

“Under such inexplicably narrow criteria – criteria bearing no reasonable relation to any legitimate (let alone compelling) government purpose – 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 or engage only in a preaching ministry,” they said. “The government has no business engaging in religious gerrymanders, whereby some churches are ‘in’ and others are ‘out’ for regulatory purposes based on who their teaching calls them to serve, how they constitute their workforce or whether they engage in ‘hard-nosed proselytizing.”

“Church agencies with the temerity (in the government’s view) to hire and serve persons other than their own members are penalized by the HHS exemption or, alternatively, forced to fire nonmembers and withdraw from or limit public service,” they said. “Such a forced choice is offensive, discriminatory and unconstitutional.”