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U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a reception for Women's History Month in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 16, 2016.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a reception for Women's History Month in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 16, 2016. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Obama's Religious 'Accommodation' on Birth Control Coverage Is a Gimmick

Mar 22, 2016
Ideas

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at the Family Research Council.

In September 1862, Abraham Lincoln met with a delegation of clergy from Wisconsin. They were discussing freedom for the slaves, and Lincoln—who later that month would sign the Emancipation Proclamation—decided to play devil’s advocate, probing the pastors with this question: Would declaring the slaves free actually make them so?

“If I should call a sheep’s tail a leg, how many legs would it have?” he asked. “Five,” was the response. “No,” said the Rail Splitter. “Only four; for my calling the tail a leg would not make it so.”

This past July, the Obama administration issued a final rule requiring non-profit employers to cover “preventive care services for women.” This means that employers are being compelled to provide—through the insurance coverage they offer to their employees—contraceptives, sterilization and drugs and devices despite their moral objections. In other words, Evangelical Protestant and observant Catholic institutions—colleges and universities, hospitals, even religious orders—have to violate their most sacred convictions concerning the personhood of unborn children or else face massive fines. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in Zubik v. Burwell, seven consolidated cases on the issue, on March 23.

The administration says that its rule contains a so-called “accommodation,” the sequence of which runs like this: Objecting parties can notify the federal Department of Health and Human Services in writing of their objection to providing any of these services. This triggers an HHS notification to the employer’s health-insurance company or Third Party Administrator to provide employees with the drugs and devices required by the HHS Mandate. Or the objecting parties can fill out a self-certification form and register their objection to their insurance company themselves.

This paradigm of bureaucratic obfuscation retains the same result as before the so-called “accommodation.” In whatever way the notification takes place, the end result is the same: The insurer provides the same contraceptives, sterilization and drugs and devices on behalf of the employer and through the employer’s health-insurance company to employees.

Under this accounting gimmick, religious and nonprofit employers still remain the legal gateway for, and are forced to pay for the coverage, which in turn includes the objectionable services for their employees by government fiat. Whether the insurance company eats the cost of the “free” contraceptive or abortifacient drugs is not the issue. What is the issue is whether the government should require the employer offering insurance at its own expense to include services which violates its beliefs. The Obama mandate affects charities, universities, hospitals or others with moral or religious objections. The final rule also lays out a similar so-called “accommodation” for closely-held for-profit organizations.

The administration’s gimmick is just that: a phony political sleight-of-hand designed to obscure the real issues.

Many faith-based groups are refusing to bend. Among them are the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns who "serve the elderly poor in over 30 countries around the world, " according to its mission statement. Family Research Council is proud to have filed an amicus brief in partnership with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, World Vision, the Cardinal Newman Society and other groups in support of the Sisters’ right to practice their deep “reverence for the sacredness of human life and for the uniqueness of each person, especially those who are poorest and/or weakest.”

In total, more than 40 amicus briefs have been filed on behalf of scores of organizations in support of the right not only of the Little Sisters but of all Americans to practice their faith in the workplace and in the manner in which they provide for their employees.

Why this outpouring of support and concern? Because religious liberty is intrinsic to the very foundation of our country: As articulated in the Declaration of Independence, our rights come from God and, therefore, our primary duty is pre-governmental—it is to our Creator Himself.

The Supreme Court will issue its ruling in Zubick v. Burwell sometime before the end of June. Regardless of the ruling, the Family Research Council contends that Congress must pass new protections to stop Obamacare from forcing religious employers to provide objectionable services through their insurer. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) have introduced the "Health Care Conscience Rights Act" to protect the religious freedom of businesses, insurers, employers and individuals under Obamacare.

The Obama administration can call its coercion and repression of religious liberty an “accommodation,” but that doesn’t make it one any more than Mr. Lincoln’s sheep’s tail makes that tail a leg.


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