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.

“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.


Undermining the First Amendment in the name of “Health Care”

Short memories make for bad public policy. I can’t help but reflect on that.

As I write this, Congress is about to take a vote on doing something-or-another with Obamacare: repeal, replace, whatever. I’m not sure they know what they’re doing, despite good intentions all around. In all the tinkering, I am not hearing much from Members of Congress about what made the “Affordable Care Act” utterly unacceptable to so many Catholics, including me: the contraceptive mandate. Continue reading “Undermining the First Amendment in the name of “Health Care””

N.H. 1st Congressional District: remembering a Shea-Porter letter

Congressional candidate Frank Guinta speaks with 40 Days for Life coordinator Jennifer Robidoux
Congressional candidate Frank Guinta speaks with 40 Days for Life coordinator Jennifer Robidoux

In New Hampshire’s First Congressional district, incumbent Frank Guinta is facing former Member of Congress Carol Shea-Porter. This is the fourth time the two have gone head-to-head for the seat, with Shea-Porter holding a 2-1 edge.

Looking strictly at his pro-life record, Guinta has voted to keep taxpayers out of the abortion industry’s business, with exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest (Hyde Amendment language). The National Right to Life Committee has endorsed him. On his campaign web site, he writes “I believe in the sanctity of life and will work to make sure all children have the ability to grow up surrounded by their parents’ loving attention.”

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH1). Facebook photo.
Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH1). Facebook photo.

Then there’s Carol Shea-Porter. She’s an EMILY’s List favorite, which speaks volumes. And in 2013, refusing to vote to weaken the Obamacare HHS/contraceptive mandate, she was willing to let the government shut down instead.

Recall her letter to  me from 2013, which stands up pretty well as a guide to her attitude towards religious liberty and what constitutes health care. The subject was the potential government “shutdown,” her support for Obamacare, and her insistence on defending its provision that women are broken and need to be fixed via “preventive” contraceptive converage. She had (has?) no problem forcing employers who provide health insurance to employees to be involved in those employees’ decisions regarding contraception.


From the 2013 post, with excerpts from Shea-Porter’s letter set off in quotation marks:

Here’s the relevant portion of her message. I’ve added some bold-face emphasis.

“Last weekend, the House of Representatives voted on a Continuing Resolution that contained multiple provisions that had nothing to do with keeping the government operational. That version of the bill, which I voted against on September 29th, included a provision that would allow any employer or insurer to refuse to cover any health care services they might object to.  This would give unprecedented control over personal healthcare decisions to employers and insurers, allowing them to deny coverage for important women’s preventive health services, including HPV testing to prevent cervical cancer, domestic violence screening and counseling, and birth control.”

Like the president whose water she’s carrying, she conceded no good will to people like me who see the down side of the “Affordable” Care Act. That makes her next sentence a punch line, albeit a lousy one.

“I stand ready to work with my Republican and Democratic colleagues on finding common ground and getting things moving here in Washington.” 

I guess the First Amendment doesn’t qualify as common ground.

…In Shea-Porter’s view, it’s imperative that employers with religious objections to contraception be forced to subsidize it anyway. She thinks that affording such people freedom of conscience would amount to “unprecedented control” over a woman’s health care decisions.

Forcing an employer to pay for birth control pills is an “unprecedented control” of its own.

I take from this that Shea-Porter believes free pills must somehow trump religious liberty. Perhaps I take too dim a view.  HHS Secretary Sebelius, when asked about the HHS mandate last year, couldn’t square it with religious liberty beyond saying, “I’m not a lawyer and I don’t pretend to understand the nuances of the constitutional balancing tests.” Madam Secretary is apparently not the only Washington denizen who has trouble with nuance. The difference between health care and health coverage, between choice and mandate, between cancer screening and fertility suppression: all are lost on my congressional representative.

One more thing: if Carol Shea-Porter wins in 2016, she’ll be entitled to a lifetime Congressional pension at her own option once she’s halfway through her term. That seems odd recompense for her support of the HHS mandate.

(Photo credit: visitthecapitol.gov)