Saturday, June 29, 2013

What's Wrong with HHS "Compromises"?

On January 20, 2012, under the direction of President Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced an unprecedented new law: As of August 1, 2012, all forms of health insurance coverage provided by businesses to their employees and by not-for-profit organizations to their clients would have to include contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs. This official announcement aroused an immediate and fierce storm of protest throughout the United States. Catholic bishops, Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, hospital owners, charity CEOs, heads of colleges and universities, big and small business owners, state and federal government leaders, and ordinary American citizens all declared in no uncertain terms that they could not possibly comply with such a directive. The reason? It would force them to act in violation of their religious beliefs and moral convictions—and they were not about to blithely discard those sacrosanct tenets.

In response to this massive wave of protest, a few weeks later on February 10, 2012 the HHS announced a “compromise” to its sweeping mandate, in which two “exemptions” were handed to religious believers. First, “houses of worship” (i.e. churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.) would be exempted from the new law. Second, religious institutions that only hire and serve members of their own faith would not be compelled to furnish certain health care items if furnishing such items violated the principles of their religion. In addition, this “compromise” effectively shifted direct responsibility for providing contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs from employers to health insurance carriers.

However, this “compromise” did little to abate the storm of protest against the new federal contraceptive, sterilization and abortifacient law. The Catholic bishops objected that it failed to adequately address the serious religious liberty issues raised by the HHS mandate. Why? Because the second exemption to that mandate is extremely narrow and very few religious organizations would qualify for it. Whether schools or hospitals or charities, most religious institutions in America are not exclusivist, hiring and serving only members of their own faith. Rather, most are—as they should be—part of the broader society, and as such they hire staff on the basis of merit and serve people on the basis of need, without discriminating against persons of differing religious affiliation. So this HHS “compromise” still left an overwhelming majority of religious institutions legally compelled to act against their beliefs.

Facing unrelenting public opposition and a barrage of more than forty lawsuits in federal courts across the nation—eleven of which have already been decided in favor of the plaintiffs—the Department of Health and Human Services held out another olive branch to the American people on February 1, 2013, proposing certain “accommodations” to make its controversial healthcare mandate more palatable to the stubbornly religious masses. Although initially the public wasn’t sure what to make of these complex new “accomodations,” Catholic bishops and lawyers were soon sounding the alarm that the newly proposed HHS regulations do little if anything to allay their deep concerns about religious freedom. In an op-ed entitled “Making Sense of Another Ambiguous ‘Compromise,’” Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia warned that the healthcare mandate “remains unnecessary, coercive and gravely flawed.” On EWTN’s news program The World Over Live with Raymond Arroyo, Kyle Duncan of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty flatly dismissed the new “accommodations” as “window-dressing.” And Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, in an official statement on behalf of all the bishops, declared, “Throughout the past year, we have been assured by the Administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage. We remain eager for the Administration to fulfill that pledge.”

So what is lacking in this latest “compromise” from HHS? According to Cardinal Dolan, three issues remain unresolved: 1) The federal definition of a religious ministry remains extremely narrow. 2) Nearly all religious institutions are still compelled to fund and facilitate "services" such as contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients. 3) No protection is afforded to the conscience rights of for-profit business owners.

In other words, we’re basically back to square one. Since issuing its drastic and unheard-of healthcare directive over a year ago, the Obama administration has utterly failed to grant American religious institutions and business owners the basic freedom to act in accordance with their beliefs. The two HHS “compromises,” with their “exemptions” and “accommodations,” are mere facades, totally devoid of genuine protections for the religious liberties and conscience rights of the American people. They’re carefully calculated political gestures designed to give the appearance of compromise and intended to weaken public resistance to a law that is seriously flawed.

President Obama and his accomplices have no intention of rescinding the HHS mandate or of substantially altering it to comply with the First Amendment. Why not? Because it’s backed by powerful lobby groups in Washington, primarily for the abortion, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries, which stand to profit immensely from legally mandated consumption of their products. These corporate interests will do whatever it takes to ensure that the Obama administration’s controversial healthcare law remains firmly in place regardless of the facts that it is unpopular, unjust, and unconstitutional.

Copyright © 2013 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

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