Congress Told Obamacare Violates Pro-Life Conscience Rights

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 2, 2011   |   1:02PM   |   Washington, DC

Members of Congress heard from panelists today in a hearing who told them that the insurance mandate the Obama administration is likely to add to the Obamacare health care reform law will violate conscience rights of pro-life advocates.

The Obama 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 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.

While the rule the Obama administration will likely adopt does include a religious exemption, it is so narrow so as to not include Catholic colleges and universities as well as hospitals. In his opening statement to the committee, Congressman Joe Pitts, a pro-life Pennsylvania Republican, talks about the problems.

“Now, we have the federal Department of Health and Human Services forcing every single person in this country to pay for services that they may morally oppose,” he said. “Groups who have for centuries cared for the sick and poor will now be forced to violate their religious beliefs if they want to continue to serve their communities.”

“Whether one supports or opposes the health care law, we should universally support the notion that the federal government should be prohibited from taking coercive actions to force people to abandon their religious principles,” he added.

Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania said the mandate will result in private employers dropping coverage — contradicting Obama’s promise that “if you like your health insurance, you can keep it.” Murphy, who last month wrote to the Obama administration urging them to abandon thismandate, said the newrule would force employers to choose between following the principles of their religion and providing health insurance to workers.

“Since this rule was released I have heard an outpouring of concern, not only from religious leaders like Bishop David Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, but from over 1,000 individual constituents, and a range of employers from the CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies to small business owners,” he said. “I have a hard time explaining to them that the federal government is forcing them to choose between their faith, and providing health insurance to their employees. This mandate stands in stark contrast to the stated purpose of healthcare reform— expanding access to health care.”

Jane G. Belford, Chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington also submitted testimony saying that the HHS exemption is so narrow that it only includes Catholic organizations that serve only Catholics.

“Under this test, archdiocesan Catholic organizations 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,” he said. “However, following the example set forth by the parable of the Good Samaritan, these Catholic organizations serve people of all different faiths without question or condition.”

“HHS has drafted a religious exemption that is so narrow that it excludes virtually all Catholic hospitals, elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, and charitable organizations, none of which impose a litmus test on those they serve, as the HHS mandate would have them do,” he added.

Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice also submitted testimony in favor of the HHS regulations. The pro-abortion organization has come under fire from Catholic and pro-life leaders for decades.

David Stevens of the Christian Medical Association and William Cox of Alliance of Catholic Health Care also submitted testimony to the committee.

In a November 1 letter to subcommittee chairman Pitts, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the head of the pro-life office of the nation’s Catholic bishops, underscored some of the concerns.

He said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Obamacare) “excluded longstanding protections for conscience rights on abortion, by failing to apply the annual Hyde/Weldon amendment to the billions of dollars newly appropriated by the Act.”

“And it created new open-ended mandates for ‘essential health benefits’ and ‘preventive services’ to be included in almost all private health plans, without any provision for individuals or institutions that may have a moral or religious objection to particular items or procedures,” he said.

Cardinal DiNardo added that the preventive service mandate has been exploited by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force almost all private insurers to cover contraceptives—including some that can cause early abortions—and sterilizations. This mandate comes with a religious exemption that narrowly defines religious employers as those who employ and serve members of their own religion for the purpose of teaching religious doctrine.

“Jesus and the apostles would not be ‘religious enough’ under such a test, as they served and healed people of different religions,” wrote Cardinal DiNardo. “Catholic organizations committed to their moral and religious teaching will have no choice but to stop providing health care and other services to the needy who are not Catholic, or stop providing health coverage to their own employees.  This is an intolerable dilemma, and either choice will mean reduced access to health care.”