It Takes a Village to Kill a Mandate

The Nashua Telegraph is reporting this afternoon that a NH Senate committee has recommended “polite death” for HB 1546, a bill to repeal the state’s mandate that health insurers cover contraception. It was tough enough getting that one through the House. The full Senate has yet to vote, so the outcome is still open. The committee’s recommendation will be overturned if and only if enough senators recognize that this mandate and its federal counterpart are attacks on religious liberty.

When NH’s mandate passed a dozen or so years ago, I didn’t recognize its significance.  I opposed the bill, but I settled for quietly shaking my head instead of taking up the argument. After all, in accordance with my religious faith, I wasn’t using contraceptives, and I wasn’t working for a religious institution with moral objections to contraception. It did not occur to me or to anyone else in the room that NH’s mandate, and similar measures in other states, would help pave the way for the federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to require that all Americans purchase health care, define contraception and abortifacient drugs as “preventive care”, and refuse to recognize conscientious objections to this arrangement.

(I’ll save for another day a fuller treatment of just what kind of health problem contraception “prevents”.)

Back in 1999, that would have seemed a huge leap. Now, looking back, I wonder how I could have failed to see what was coming. It is to the great credit of American Catholic bishops that they have been so outspoken in defending religious liberty against this encroachment (see their statement here). That’s a start. The bishops have done their job. It’s now for the rest of us to bring the no-mandate message to Concord and Washington.

The HHS mandate plays strange games with health care, and thus with people’s lives. It says certain procedures are “preventive” and thus must be free to women. No co-pay. Except that’s not really free: everyone, including women with religious objections to the procedures, must pay, since everyone will be required to carry insurance. Religious institutions providing insurance to employees will have to pay to include that coverage even if the procedures violate the tenets of the religion in question. There is no opting-out. In response to protests, the President has delayed implementation of the mandate to August 2013, as though the outrage will cool by then.

What will happen at that time to religious institutions, such as hospitals and adoption agencies, that will not pay into such a health care system? They can knuckle under, which is undoubtedly what HHS expects, or they can close down, or they can continue to operate but pay heavy fines to the government.

But what about the First Amendment? The HHS mandate attempts to get around that by exempting certain religious employers – but not the ones that serve people of other religions. As others have pointed out, Jesus and the apostles would flunk that test. Employers refusing to submit to the mandate will be fined.

A government that attacks my religion today can attack yours tomorrow. Today, I am being told that I can hold whatever beliefs I want, as long as I’m prepared in August 2013 to pay a fine for taking those beliefs seriously. Tomorrow, or next week, or next year, you could be getting that message.

It does not matter if those of us who reject the mandate are in a minority. The Bill of Rights was not put into the Constitution to protect majorities.

When the American bishops spoke up earlier this year, they were greeted with a well-orchestrated & well-funded campaign promoting a lie: that anyone opposing the mandate is waging war on women.

I don’t have an advertising budget. I don’t have Nancy Pelosi’s phone number to ask her to set up a mock hearing for me. I am not a photogenic 30-year-old Georgetown law student with a publicist. I’m simply a New Hampshire neighbor, here to get my message across as best I can.

A co-pay is not a war.  Respecting Catholic beliefs is not an act of war. When you keep your hands out of my pocket when you pay for your preventive care, that’s not an act of war.

On the other hand, a federal mandate that threatens the Catholic Church’s ability to operate thousands of schools and hospitals and adoption agencies DOES amount to a war on women. When this mandate imposes a fine a on a church that is one of the foremost health care providers in the nation, that’s not only a First Amendment violation. It’s stupid, shortsighted policy that will have a devastating effect on American women.

Today’s hearing in Concord featured women complaining that repealing the state mandate would inhibit access to contraception. Note to senators: access doesn’t mean free. Ask any store owner. At least eleven agencies in our state offer family planning services on a sliding fee scale, so financial need is not barrier to access.

The HHS mandate, and the state-level mandates as well, are not really about preventive health care except to those who consider women’s fertility to be a disease. A mandate that threatens Catholic health care providers undermines the very meaning of health care. In fact, if you’re concerned about women’s health, you’ll defend the church’s freedom to do its work.

Up to now, people of faith have “rendered unto Caesar”, as the saying goes, on things like this. Just as I behaved when NH’s mandate was enacted, we’ve gone along to get along. The HHS mandate is a line in the sand, drawn by Caesar, and it’s time to say “we’ve rendered enough.”

I’m not asking for any favors here. I am a citizen, and I claim the protections of the First Amendment against those who would force individuals and institutions of any religion to participate in providing procedures they recognize as immoral. That’s solid ground on which to stand.

A co-pay is not a war, fertility is not a disease, and religious faith is not a crime. Senators in Concord and HHS bureaucrats in Washington evidently need to be reminded of this.

(This post is based in part on remarks I delivered to the Standing Up for Religious Freedom rally in Concord last month.)

Introduction: “Still Talking About This”

“I can’t believe we’re still talking about this.”
I must have heard those words fifty times in the past year in Concord, spoken by fellow citizens who style themselves “pro-choice” and are truly surprised that pro-lifers are still active.

Still talking about what? About abortion, how it became legal, and how it has grown into a lucrative business for abortion providers; about women facing challenging pregnancies and sometimes facing the aftermath of terminating those pregnancies; about paying for it and subsidizing the industry.  We’re still talking because there is no way to shut down a debate when lives are at stake.

To the great dismay of abortion advocates, New Hampshire legislators in the past year have taken up a number of bills that touch on abortion.  Every session has some abortion debate, but 2011-12 has been remarkable for the sheer volume of life-issue legislation. Most of the bills are consistent with U.S. Supreme Court decisions that are based on Roe. With the exception of two measures to ban late-term abortion and “partial-birth” infanticide, the bills provide mere regulation, long-overdue and badly needed. One bill is simply an attempt to get the state to order abortion providers to report statistics.

New Hampshire currently is the Wild West where abortion law is concerned. Women’s safety and public health policy would seem to call for a degree of regulation and oversight, even if one were to put aside the fact that each abortion takes a human life. Abortion advocates are  loud and angry over each and every one of the bills, however, drawing no distinction among parental notification (enacted over a veto), funding restrictions, statistical reporting, and a late-term ban. To them, it’s all one big attack on Choice, part of a larger effort to set women back.

This is worse than nonsense. What I see being set back are the rights of women and men who choose not to pay even indirectly for the operation of an abortion facility.  I see people lobbying to keep abortion undocumented, so that public health officials will continue to be in the dark about how many New Hampshire women make this “choice” every year. I hear testimony to the need for eugenic abortion, which is a throwback to one of the 20th century’s worst ideas. I hear women who should know better equate a 24-hour waiting period with an outright ban on abortion.

Both in New Hampshire and elsewhere, we need to meet this with more than hand-wringing and the occasional letter to the editor. I offer this blog as a tool and a guide to action for all who share my determination to bring an end to the carnage wrought by Roe. I will undoubtedly use the blog sometimes just to vent. At all times, though, I am mindful that if I do this right, I’ll be reaching people who disagree with me. Persuasion is always possible. Of course, I have no doubt that someone over on the other side is working to persuade me right back. Fair enough.

I write as a woman who came of age in the years shortly after Roe v. Wade. When I was in high school and a dear friend “had” to have an abortion, I chipped in with some friends for the $250 cost. I found the idea of abortion regrettable & uncomfortable, but it was after all my friend’s body & my friend’s choice. Over the following five years, many experiences combined to leave me incapable of denying the humanity of the child in uteroThe dignity of both mother and child are absolute, regardless of what any court may decide.

Just as the state rep who heads the Reproductive Rights Caucus is careful to mention that she’s Catholic, I should be candid about my religious background. While raised Catholic, I spent most of my adolescence shrugging off religion. Later, it wasn’t being Catholic that made me pro-life. It was recognizing the miracle of life that brought me back to professing the Catholic faith. This has been significant in more ways than I could have imagined when I was a young woman.

As for politics, I call myself a recovering Republican. I fall off the wagon now and then, but I am a registered “undeclared” voter, in New Hampshire parlance. The rest of the world knows me as “independent.” It is true that nearly every candidate I support runs as a Republican. It is also true that GOP leaders tend to take pro-life voters for granted. By not signing up with the party, I can help whatever candidates I choose, and the party need not get annoyed with me for failing to back every candidate on the ticket.

So yes, we’re still talking about this. Pro-lifers cannot be effective if they stay huddled together. I propose that we step out in faith and leaven the loaf of public discourse. Let’s begin.