By Dave Andrusko
When the Senate narrowly defeated the Blunt Amendment, the rights of conscience unquestionably took a hit. The 51–48 vote temporarily stymied the effort to amend the Obama health care law (“ObamaCare”) to prevent the use of that law to issue regulatory mandates that violate the religious or moral convictions of those who purchase or provide health insurance.
However, the March 1 vote, while regrettable, is only one skirmish in a battle that will continue the courts, in Congress, and at the ballot box.
The arithmetic of the vote was straightforward. Democrats control the Senate; all voting Republicans but one voted for the amendment, while all but three Democrats voted against it. The Obama Administration called the Blunt Amendment “dangerous and wrong.”
That assessment may fly with a body controlled by his fellow Democrats, who have called these determined efforts to respect religious freedom part of a “war on women,” but it will crash and burn with the electorate. It cannot be said often enough that the Blunt Amendment would have merely restored traditional conscience protections, does not affect any federal law other than ObamaCare, and does not apply to state laws.
It was not the pro-life community and/or the communities of faith who started this fight. It was Obama and his pro-abortion Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius who, having brazenly upset the status quo, shamelessly pretend it is opponents who are the aggressors.
It’s bad enough that the Obama Administration issued an initial mandate that requires most employers to purchase plans that cover all FDA-approved methods of birth control. But it could grow worse were President Obama to win a second term, using the same authority.
As far back as 2009 NRLC warned that a provision dealing with “preventive health services” would empower the Secretary of Health and Human Services to mandate coverage of any medical service, including abortion, merely by adding the service to an expandable list. In a second Obama Administration, the HHS could order most health plans to cover all abortions. (The damage done by such a pro-abortion mandate could be limited, to a degree, in those states in which the legislature enacts a so-called “opt-out” law to prohibit health plans in government-administered exchanges from covering abortions.)
Fortunately the broader public is waking up, and communities of faith have repeatedly alerted their congregants to the magnitude of what is at stake.
There have been a number of polls taken on the issue (some more reliable than others), but the most revealing was a CBS News/New York Times poll which showed majority support for an exception for employers who have religious or moral objections to the Obama mandate.
Fifty-one percent agreed that employers of any kind should be able to “opt out” of providing birth control coverage for their employees to 40% who say they should have to cover it.
When asked about religiously affiliated employers, the 51% jumps to 57%. Under either scenario, both women and men were in favor of the exception.
Wording is important. Specifically, the questions asked of over 1,000 respondents were:
“Do you think health insurance plans for all employees should have to cover the full cost of birth control for their female employees, or should employers be able to opt out of covering that based on religious or moral objections?” Cover Birth Control: 40% Allowed to Opt Out: 51%
“What about for religiously affiliated employers, such as a hospital or university? Do you think their health insurance plans for all employees should have to cover the full cost of birth control for their female employees, or should they be able to opt out of covering that based on religious or moral objections?” Cover Birth Control: 37% Allowed to Opt Out: 57%.
Columnist Mickey Kaus dug into the poll numbers. He found with reference to all employers, women favored allowing them to opt out, 46% to 44%. “The margin increased to a decisive 53-38 for ‘religiously affiliated employers,’ such as a hospital or university,” Kaus explained.
But with men the numbers were overwhelming. “Men favored opting out by a 20 point margin (57 vs. 37), except when a ‘religiously affiliated employer’ was involved, in which case the margin increased to 25 points,” Kaus wrote. “Combining men and women, a substantial majority (51–40) favors allowing an opt-out—increasing to 57–36 where religiously-affiliated institutions are involved. These are not close results.”
The Catholic Church has been the most visible opponent of the Obama mandate but by no means the only community of faith. There were religious leaders and scholars from a number of faith communities who testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The question the committee was attempting to answer was “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State: Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?”
Baptist leaders, members of the Jewish community, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod—those and many others joined Bishop William E. Lori, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in placing the mandate in its proper context: an unprecedented assault on religious liberty that cannot be allowed to stand.
The USCCB has affirmed that the bishops are strongly united in their ongoing and determined efforts to protect religious freedom and in educating the public to the universality of the attack. In a statement issued by the Administrative Committee, chaired by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the USCCB, the bishops said this is not about religious freedom only for Catholics, “but also of those who recognize that their cherished beliefs may be next on the block. Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything; it is, instead, about the federal government forcing the Church … to act against Church teachings.”
Looking to the future, the bishops said, “We will continue our vigorous efforts at education and public advocacy on the principles of religious liberty and their application in this case (and others). We will continue to accept any invitation to dialogue with the Executive Branch to protect the religious freedom that is rightly ours. We will continue to pursue legislation to restore the same level of religious freedom we have enjoyed until just recently. And we will continue to explore our options for relief from the courts, under the U.S. Constitution and other federal laws that protect religious freedom.”
Or, as Bishop Lori has said, “We will continue our strong defense of conscience rights through all available legal means. Religious freedom is at the heart of democracy and rooted in the dignity of every human person. We will not rest until the protection of conscience rights is restored and the First Amendment is returned to its place of respect in the Bill of Rights.”
Obama and the Democrats will sing the same old song in an attempt to persuade opponents to buckle: that opposition to a mandate that requires religiously affiliated universities, hospitals, and charities to pay for health insurance that violates their religious or moral convictions is something only “extremists” or those who are “rigid” could believe in.
And they can keep harmonizing with much of the media. But as Americans increasingly understand the magnitude of the threat to rights of conscience, Mr. Obama will find he was way off key.