“Considering” religious liberty

President Trump has issued an executive order on religious liberty, addressing in part the litigation between the government and the Little Sisters of the Poor over the government’s contraceptive mandate.  The Sisters are apparently off the hook, if I properly understood the remarks the President made before he signed the order.

(Some of my earlier posts about the mandate are collected here.)

Pope Francis visiting Little Sisters of the Poor. Photo from littlesistersofthepoor.org.

The Sisters are among the many plaintiffs who object to the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare on religious grounds. They don’t want to help procure contraception or abortion-inducing drugs and devices for their employees via employer-provided insurance. They have to go to court over this, lest they face fines that would destroy their ability to carry out their vocation to minister to impoverished elders.

The operative line in President Trump’s order is this: “The Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate…” (Recall that contraception was declared to be “preventive” care under Obamacare.)

Consider issuing amended regulations?

I’m happy for the Sisters. This is good news, as far as it goes. But there’s a long way to go before the mandate is history.


The cost of the buffer zone law, so far

A postscript to yesterday’s New Hampshire House committee vote on buffer zone repeal, HB 589: Rep. Gary Hopper (R-Weare) read aloud to his fellow committee members a communication he had received from Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice in response to a query from him about what the state has spent so far defending the buffer zone law.

He read the letter aloud in a meeting that was open to the public; he posted it today on Facebook; his correspondent is a state employee; the topic was state business. Sounds like quotable stuff to me. So here is Deputy AG Rice to Rep. Hopper, as posted by Rep. Hopper this morning:

…So far, the Department has devoted 313.75 hours of attorney time in defending the buffer zone law, which equates to $43,611.25 (313.75 hours x $139.00/hr). We do not track the time that support staff devotes to any particular case so I cannot provide a cost for that. As far as future costs, that will depend on what the plaintiffs chose to do. If they appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court, we would file an objection, which I would estimate would involve approximately 40 hours of attorney time at $139/hr, or $5560 in cost. If the US Supreme Court accepted the appeal, the Department would likely devote several hundred hours on the appeal. I am unable to better estimate the amount of time required.

The plaintiffs could opt to refrain from further litigation unless and until a buffer zone is actually being considered. At this point, I cannot estimate if or when that would occur, or the amount of time that this office would spend on the litigation.

Recall that in the Supreme Court’s McCullen v. Coakley decision overturning a Massachusetts buffer zone law, taxpayers not only covered the cost for the state to defend an ultimately unconstitutional law but were later on the hook for $1.2 million in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees.

I’m sure Massachusetts’ costs started small. Look where they ended up.


A timely throwback video: “Bureau of Womanhood Conformity”

The team at the Susan B. Anthony List reminded me today of a canny little video they made a few years back, when the outgoing president and his appointees imposed the HHS mandate.  The video hits a nerve anew, in this week of the rescission of an invitation to pro-lifers by organizers of a so-called “Women’s March.” This week, it’s not a president speaking – but the Bureau of Womanhood Conformity sounds like it’s still in business.


 

The First Amendment is soooo intimidating

I’m not trying to beat the New Hampshire gubernatorial race to death; it just seems that way. I’ll stop after this post, at least until the election’s over. File this one away until the next time a contract with New Hampshire’s leading abortion provider comes up at the State House.

Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund (PPNHAF) has gone after Mr. Sununu for his statement that he would back a few commonsense policies including repeal of the buffer zone law. Yes, THAT buffer zone law, enacted but never used because every abortion provider in the state knows that the law in its present form would be doomed in court.

PPNHAF statement here


I’m sorry I haven’t the time on this pre-election Sunday to fisk the full statement. I’ll settle for pointing out its references to the First Amendment rights of New Hampshire women and men.

The PP statement says “Chris Sununu said he’d…allow harassment of women seeking health care” and would “turn a blind eye to intimidation of women seeking health care by rejecting the bipartisan enactment of New Hampshire’s Buffer Zone law.”

Equating the peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights with “harassment of women” is as egregious as equating “health care” with public funding of PP. I don’t know whether or not the irony is lost on PP’s target here.

If Mr. Sununu is “turning a blind eye to intimidation”, then so are the police departments in every New Hampshire community with an abortion facility. During the hearings on passage of the buffer zone in 2014, not one police department representative could be found to testify about problems with abortion-facility demonstrations that couldn’t be addressed via existing law. 

That was the fatal flaw in the Massachusetts buffer zone law thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court in McCullen v. Coakley: Massachusetts failed to use existing laws to address demonstrators’ behavior before abrogating the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights.

The safety of women entering or working in an abortion facility, like the safety of women demonstrating outside, cannot be protected or enhanced by nullifying the First Amendment on public property adjacent to abortion facilities.  That’s what the buffer zone law seeks to do. The “bipartisan enactment” was bipartisan error.

No one has good reason to fear the peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights. Rejecting New Hampshire’s yet-unenforced buffer zone law means rejecting that fear. Embracing the law means giving in to that fear.

Come to think of it, if opposition to buffer zones is tantamount to intimidating women, how come no PP facility in New Hampshire has posted a zone? PP worked for the law’s enactment, but has thus far declined to use it.

With less than a week to go before the election, PP’s statement is likely to get lost in the flood of overheated press releases coming from all sides. It’s worth remembering, though. PP is free to advocate for whatever it wants, including abrogation of constitutional rights. Governors and Executive Councilors are free to take that into consideration when the agency comes looking for its next contract.

PPNHAF has endorsed the Democratic candidates for Governor and Executive Council, all of whom we may therefore presume are committed to keeping the buffer zone law on the books.