The attack ad told me to check the facts – so I did

(I wrote this essay for Cornerstone, which has kindly given me permission to re-post here.)

I am an “undeclared” voter, in the parlance of my state’s election laws, which means I’m not registered with any political party. I get a hefty pile of political ads in the mail every day during election season, as both major parties try to win my vote. Check the facts, they urge me.

I recently got a mailer from the state Democrat party attacking a state senate candidate, Gary Daniels, who happens to be a friend of mine. The mailer informed me that Daniels was coming to take away my reproductive rights.

No wonder “check the facts” is in the tiniest print.

I know the candidate and his voting record, so I was skeptical of the mailer right off the bat. But right there in tiny print on the front was that challenge: check the facts.

Fact number one: the first claim printed on the mailer cited a “vote” that Daniels never cast. He was not a member of the legislature at the time the bill in question was introduced.

“Opposes reproductive health care”

The footnote to the claim that Daniels “opposes reproductive health care” points to HB 685 (2020). Gary Daniels, while he is a former senator, was not in office in 2020. The incumbent in that seat is Shannon Chandley, whose party is responsible for the false claim that Daniels voted on HB 685.

Chandley voted in favor of the bill. That is not to her credit.

HB 685 was an abortion insurance mandate. It was not about reproductive health care. It was about violating the conscience rights of people who would rather not be involved in abortion, even tangentially, by providing insurance for it. It was about equating abortion with maternity care. As the Governor pointed out in his veto message, it was also about violating the federal Weldon Amendment, which would have cost the state millions of dollars in federal funds for human services programs in New Hampshire.

(The Weldon Amendment prohibits federal funds from going to states that discriminate against any health care entity which does not pay for or provide coverage for abortions.)

A vote for HB 685 doesn’t look to me like support for health care. Instead, it looks like respect for conscience rights.

“Opposes doctor-patient confidentiality”

The mailer goes on to proclaim that Daniels “opposes doctor-patient confidentiality.” Another footnote, this one for HB 629 (2016).

HB 629 was an abortion statistics bill. Not only was it written to protect patient confidentiality, but it contained language to protect provider identity as well. That was how the bill made it through the House on a voice vote, before it was tabled in the Senate after an effort to pass it failed on a 12-12 vote.

I participated as a representative of a policy group, Cornerstone Action, in every hearing and work session between the time the bill was introduced in January 2015 until it died on the table in the state senate in May 2016. I know how great a role confidentiality played in the lengthy negotiations.

To say that support for abortion statistics is “opposition to doctor-patient confidentiality” is a lie. Period.

“Opposes access to contraception”

The footnote to the third claim on the anti-Daniels mailer (“opposes access to contraception”) takes us all the way back to a 2015 bill, SB 42, “relative to employee notification of contraceptive coverage” in employer-provided health insurance. This was an attempt to hang a scarlet letter on companies that were exempt from the Obamacare contraceptive mandate following the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

This bill was so poorly received in the state senate that it was tabled and killed on a voice vote. It never even made it over to the House.

The only roll call vote on the bill was on a proposed amendment that was rejected on a 12-12 tie. Daniels voted against the proposed amendment because he understood the underlying bill.

That’s it. There’s no truth that the vote on SB 42 was about “access to contraception.” No one’s access to contraception was at issue. This bill was all about annoyance with the Supreme Court and with anyone who objected to the contraceptive mandate.

Now, more than ever…

In bold print, the mailer from the state Democrat party tells me that “now, more than ever, we need to come together to protect state level reproductive health.”

Let me fix that for them.

Now, more than ever, we need to come together to respect each other’s rights of conscience.

Now, more than ever, we need to come together to put women’s health ahead of politics, and start reporting abortion statistics including maternal morbidity and mortality. Forty-seven other states have figured out how to do that with aggregate data that protects patient confidentiality.

Now, more than ever, we need to reclaim the authentic meaning of rights and health.

And while we’re at it: now, more than ever, we need to call out a party when it fabricates a vote in an effort to smear a candidate. Just because there are footnotes doesn’t mean the information is accurate or reliable.

I suspect Gary Daniels is not the only candidate whose pro-life record is going to be misrepresented. Do your local candidates a favor: if you hear an accusation about “opposing contraception” or “opposing doctor-patient confidentiality,” call for documentation. If what you get in reply are references to HB 685, HB 629, and SB 42, now you know what they really mean.

The party that created that mailer will have to find another way to attract my vote.

Header photo: Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay 

Little Sisters at the Court: a good day

The U.S. Supreme Court tiptoed its way through a jungle of administrative law to hand another victory to the Little Sisters of the Poor. Some people just can’t stop insisting that nuns help provide birth control. In this case, it was the state of Pennsylvania, which deservedly lost on a 7-2 vote

Or, in the words of a headline from CNBC (a business network, mind you): “Supreme Court says Trump administration can let religious employers deny birth control coverage under Obamacare.”

Let me fix that for them: “Supreme Court tells Pennsylvania to get its hands out of nuns’ pockets,” or “Supreme Court recognizes religious liberty interests of Catholic women,” or “Supreme Court says government cannot impose ruinous fines on Little Sisters of the Poor,” or even “Supreme Court lets employers stay out of employees’ private decisions involving sex.”

Read the rest of the post at ellenkolb.com.

Final “Exemptions” Announced to HHS/Obamacare Mandate

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is issuing two final rules revising the Obamacare contraception mandate, in an effort to relieve those with religious and moral objections from compelled contraceptive insurance coverage. Not a moment too soon, either. Read Wesley J. Smith’s summary of the rules here.

HHS describes the rules:

The first of today’s final rules provides an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate to entities that object to services covered by the mandate on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs. The second final rule provides protections to nonprofit organizations and small businesses that have non-religious moral convictions opposing services covered by the mandate.

The religious and moral exemptions provided by these rules also apply to institutions of education, issuers, and individuals.

The Departments are not extending the moral exemption to publicly traded businesses, or either exemption to government entities.

I’ve written at length about the Obamacare mandate that contraceptives for women be treated as “preventive” health care. The mandate was and is wrong on at least two levels: its assumption that women are broken and need to be fixed, and its attack on the First Amendment rights of employers like the Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby who have religious or moral objections to helping provide or procure contraceptives, abortifacient or otherwise, for employees.

The new rules may be as close to a solution as can be achieved, with exemptions to the mandate now much broader than before. But there shouldn’t need to be exemptions, because the mandate shouldn’t exist.

President Trump’s Administration is right to recognize the threat to religious liberty posed by the mandate. But this president is no more likely than the previous one to back away from the public policy that treats women as things that need fixing, as though women’s fertility were a disease.

Nuns sued = War on Women

I thought we were done with this, but government officials want the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for other peoples’ birth control. In October, the feds bowed out of that asinine battle for the time being*, via a rule that is still open for public comment. Now, state-level harassment takes the stage as the Attorneys General of Pennsylvania and California – both men, as it happens – seek to force the Sisters to knuckle under.

The Sisters minister to elderly people living in poverty. Litigation is not their specialty. Fortunately, the Sisters have good legal representation. Too bad they need it.

See “For the love of God, why can’t Democrats leave the Little Sisters of the Poor alone?” by Nicole Russell in the November 26 Washington Examiner.

Challengers to conscience rights aren’t done, and those challenges are going to go beyond contraception. Anyone who wants to force you to pay for other peoples’ contraception will just as readily work to overturn or prevent abortion-funding restrictions.

Anyone who says “health care” and means “you pay for my contraception” is debasing the language.

Anyone who sues nuns to force them to pay for contraception is waging war on women.

Anyone who thinks contraception is “preventive health care” is asserting that women are broken and need to be fixed.

We’ll see how the two offending states fare in their effort.

 

* From the web site of the Becket Fund, a public-interest law firm defending the Little Sisters of the Poor: “On October 6, 2017, the government issued a new rule with a broader religious exemption. The rule may be changed after the government considers the comments it receives. Becket attorney Mark Rienzi stated, ‘It should be easy for the courts to finalize this issue now that the government admits it broke the law. For months, we have been waiting for Department of Justice lawyers to honestly admit that fact, like the President did in the Rose Garden five months ago. Now that the agencies admit the mandate was illegal, we expect the leadership of the Department of Justice will cooperate in getting a final court resolution.'”

The Mandate Takes a Hit. That’s Not Enough.

Nine months after taking office, five months after assuring the Little Sisters of the Poor that they could quit fearing fines, the Administration of President Donald Trump has announced a rollback of the HHS contraceptive mandate. (See here for my earlier coverage of the mandate.)

From Fox News:

The Trump administration on Friday announced a major rollback of the ObamaCare contraceptive mandate, granting what officials called “full protection” to a wide range of companies and organizations that claim a “religious or moral objection” to providing the coverage. 

The mandate, which has been the subject of multiple legal challenges, has required employers that provide health insurance to cover contraceptives. Under the existing policy, churches and houses of worship were exempt, while religious-affiliated groups that object had to allow a third-party administrator or insurer to handle birth control coverage. The 2014 Hobby Lobby decision expanded exemptions to for-profit “closely held” corporations.

But under the new policy unveiled Friday, the Trump administration is expanding the protections to any nonprofit group, non-publicly traded company, or higher education institution with religious or moral objections — and making the third-party provision optional for groups with “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

 (Full Fox News post here.)

I’m pleased that the President has followed through on a commitment he could have carried out his first day in office. Better late than never. Maybe he has no roots on this, and it took time for the people around him to put the ducks in a row. Notice the arm’s length language of the news report: Trump administration did thisofficials said that

I’m grateful. That’s simple courtesy and a measure of positive reinforcement. But I’m not going to grovel over the recognition of my rights of conscience and religious liberty that should never have been abrogated in the first place. It’s not as though the President is doing me a favor.

Actually, today’s action does sound like someone thinks there are favors to be dispensed. The news coverage speaks of exemptions, protection, and rollback. Selected entities are added to the list of exempt organizations. No mention of the First Amendment, at least in the initial breaking news update. It’s the First Amendment that’s at issue, which is something the mandate’s supporters have ferociously denied since 2012.

Why does the mandate stand at all? Why is there still anything to be exempted from?

The contraceptive mandate came out of Obamacare’s definition of birth control for women as “preventive care.” In a manner beyond anything the rankest sexist could have dreamed, Obamacare made it government policy that women are broken and need to be fixed. The normal functioning of a woman’s body was something to be “prevented.” Contraception was shifted from being a matter of choice to being a matter of public policy, forcing employers who chose to offer health insurance coverage to be involved in employees’ birth control decisions. Nothing ever put employers into employees’ bedrooms quite like the contraceptive mandate.

It’s to the everlasting credit of the American Catholic bishops that they recognized the mandate’s threat to religious liberty. Among other things, they knew that the Catholic health care system – which provides care to more women than any other provider in the nation – could be fined out of existence by the mandate.

The mandate originally came with exemptions for some politically-favored companies and organizations. Hobby Lobby and other plaintiffs later earned a Supreme Court victory that was extremely narrow, releasing closely-held companies from the mandate. President Trump told the Little Sisters of the Poor earlier this year that they could consider themselves free from fear of being fined for not wishing to pay for insurance coverage for employees’ birth control. At least fifty other lawsuits are pending against the mandate; I don’t know how many just became moot.

Today, the mandate took a serious hit. It’s still staggering around, though. The only way to kill it is to abandon the policy that gave rise to it in the first place. Stop treating the suppression of women’s fertility as “preventive care.” Stop expecting “free” contraception. When “free” means compelling financial support from people with religious objections to contraception, then “free” is too expensive.

Today’s action from the Trump Administration is long overdue. It’s the biggest hit on the mandate since Hobby Lobby. The mandate’s foundation remains in place, though. For religious resisters to the mandate, First Amendment rights are still at risk. May today be a spark to renewed assertion of those rights.