The Obama Administration, HHS Regulations, and the Right of Conscience

By Dave Andrusko

Pro-abortion President Barack Obama, preparing to deliver the 2009 commencement speech at Notre Dame

It’s said that in the nation’s capital, everything is “politics.” In the case of the Obama administration and (most prominently but not exclusively) the Catholic Church over the right of conscience vis a vis ObamaCare, it IS all politics  but only on one side: Obama’s. The irony is that even some of his most faithful supporters fear Obama has gone way too far and alienated a key voting bloc.

As you no doubt know, after numerous backs and forths, on January 20 (just before the March for Life), the Obama Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services issued regulations that require Catholic universities, hospitals, and charities to pay for health insurance that covers sterilization and contraceptives. If I may, let me make three points.

First, just to get the electoral politics out of the way, Obama apologists and critics alike agree that Catholics were pivotal to Obama’s win over John McCain. They turned out for Obama, giving him 54% in 2008. Various other policy initiatives had already taken the bloom off the Obama rose. In light of the vociferous opposition to the mandate by Catholic prelates, Obama’s supporters fear this could be devastating to his re-election bid.

Second, part of the chagrin from “progressive” Catholics is (as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne phrased it) that “Obama threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus and strengthened the hand of those inside the Church who had originally sought to derail the health-care law.” This requires a couple of paragraphs of explanation/rebuttal, so please stay with me.

The mantra from progressives, both secular and religious, is that “conservatives” conjured up imaginary abortion-enhancing provisions in ObamaCare. Thus, those who stood up for the “truth”–that it didn’t–ought to be congratulated and supported, not left hanging out to dry.

But the truth is, progressive/liberals weren’t telling the truth. As NRLC explained from the very beginning, ObamaCare contained multiple provisions that provide authorizations for subsidies for abortion, both implicit and explicit, and also multiple provisions that opened doors to abortion-expanding administrative actions (just for starters). Those within the Catholic Church that Dionne derided as having “sought to derail the health-care law” agreed independently with NRLC’s analysis and sought unsuccessfully to have the provisions removed.

(That free pass includes erstwhile pro-life Democrats such as former Michigan Representative Bart Stupak, who carried the water for a bogus executive order Obama promised at the eleventh hour, making passage possible. As NRLC said at the time, “The executive order promised by President Obama was issued for political effect. It changes nothing. It does not correct any of the serious pro-abortion provisions in the bill. The president cannot amend a bill by issuing an order, and the federal courts will enforce what the law says.”)

Third, the attack on conscience is not a newly geared-up offensive, unleashed late in the game by Obama. To cite just one example, a year ago, the Obama Administration rescinded a regulation that has been issued by the Bush Administration which would have protected healthcare providers from being penalized for refusing to participate in providing abortions.

Not that Obama hasn’t pretended (and promised) otherwise. In his 2009 commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, Obama said, “Let’s honor the conscience of those” who disagree with abortion “and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health-care policies are grounded not only in sound science but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women.”

That, of course, proved to be nothing more than reassuring rhetoric that means nothing as Obama seeks to please his base.

Pro-life Congressman Chris Smith put it perfectly, speaking at the March for Life January 23.

“The weakening and systematic undermining of conscience protections are at the top of Mr. Obama’s wish list as well as the ‘integration’ of abortion into national and international programs.”

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