Obamacare Strong-Arms Religious Beliefs; Pushing Contraception Fails to Promote Health

Article excerpt

Byline: Dana Cody and Rebekah Millard, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Hopes of repealing Obamacare took a beating last week with the election results. For the foreseeable future, implementation of the Affordable Care Act will continue, including the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) contraception mandate - a frightening glimpse of what we have to look forward to.

The genesis of the mandate is a prime example of bureaucracy in action: The Health Resources and Services Administration, a branch of HHS, adopted a set of guidelines recommended by a report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) - guidelines that were adopted after presentations from groups that vigorously advocate for abortion and contraception, including the Guttmacher Institute, the National Women's Law Center and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. No groups from the other side were allowed to weigh in on the process.

What was the end result of this bureaucracy and political pandering? The definition of preventative services was expanded to include all FDA-approved contraceptive methods (including those with abortifacient propensities), sterilization procedures and patient education and counseling.

Employers with religious beliefs prohibiting the use of contraceptives objected to being forced to violate their conscientious beliefs through funding these services in employee insurance. Half-acknowledging these objections, HHS introduced the religious employer exemption, under which some nonprofit religious employers - essentially those qualifying as houses of worship under the Internal Revenue Code - are exempt from the mandate. This narrow exemption left numerous employers faced with violating their religious convictions or paying hefty fines.

Faced with this choice, many employers have taken to the courts for relief. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, there are now 40 active cases representing more than 110 plaintiffs throughout the country challenging the mandate on religious-freedom grounds.

The plaintiffs argue that the mandate puts direct pressure on religious exercise by requiring employers to violate their sincere religious beliefs. For example, one plaintiff is Hobby Lobby, a company owned by the Green family. If the company continues to offer employee health insurance without the mandated contraception coverage, it will incur penalties of about $1.2 million per day, beginning in January 2013. If it ceases to offer employee insurance, it will face annual penalties of about $26 million per year. Compliance with the mandate means the additional cost of covering the specified contraceptive items and, more important, it would violate the sincere religious beliefs of the Green family - beliefs they have upheld consistently since their company's inception.

The government argues that this burden is justified by its compelling interest in protecting women's health and gender equality. This sounds good on the surface, particularly as a political talking point.

Yet, what if the premise that contraceptives promote women's health is shown to be unsound?

Closely examined, the evidence on the health impact of the mandated types of contraception suggests that far from benefiting women's health, they actually are seriously dangerous to women's health. …