“Go Back To The Drawing Board” on HHS Mandate

I was privileged to be invited to speak on behalf of Cornerstone Policy Research at today’s Standing Up for Religious Freedom rally in Concord. I hope the other speakers will post their remarks as well, and if they do, I’ll link to them. We saw a lot of thumbs-up from  drivers going past. Apparently, the message is getting out there, even in Concord. Here are the remarks I delivered.

June 2012: religious freedom rally in Concord (with Catherine Adair)
June 2012: religious freedom rally in Concord (with Catherine Adair)

We’re gathering on the anniversary of a special day in our nation’s history. Two Hundred Twenty-Three years ago today, James Madison gave Congress his proposal for the Bill of Rights. We’re here today in defense of the very first clause in the First Amendment: protection of the free exercise of religion.

In March, Americans in 140 cities including Concord stood up for religious freedom, moved by the Health and Human Services Mandate. Today, people are standing up in 160 cities. More and more Americans recognize that the mandate is not about women and not about a particular church. It’s about the federal government effectively rewriting the First Amendment.

Start with health care plans in which we all must participate under penalty of law. Make “preventive care” free to a patient, with no co-pay. Further, include contraception, abortive drugs, and female sterilization in the list of what is “preventive”. The result of such a plan: we all subsidize these procedures for the women who choose to use them.

What if I embrace a religious belief that says these things are immoral? What if I run a business and want to provide health insurance to my employees without subsidizing these procedures? What if I’m a woman who rejects the bad science & bad medicine behind the belief that a healthy woman’s body needs chronic chemical alteration?

Our president and our secretary of health and human services say “too bad,” and Congress is so far nodding meekly. Agree that women’s fertility is a disease, or else pay a penalty, they say.

We say “Go back to the drawing board.”

Our current President and his HHS Secretary tried unsuccessfully to buy off the Catholic church in America with an “exemption” for religious employers. They even tried to tell that church what a religious employer looks like: a business operated by a certain religion that serves only those of the same religion.

Stop right there. You have no right to tell me what my faith means, and you may not penalize me or my employer or my church for acting on our beliefs.

This is critical. Voters are watching. Any policy that pushes any religion to the margins and seeks to extract a penalty from its adherents is unconstitutional. If one religion is threatened, we are all threatened.

The Administration is welcoming comments from the public on the mandate, until June 19.  Here’s my comment – the same one I made in March: my faith is not a crime, a woman’s fertility is not a disease, and this mandate has got to go.  

I don’t like using the term “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” The fact is that this health care law is neither protective nor affordable. It claims to protect my family’s health, but does so at the price of our First Amendment protections. It claims to be affordable, but in fact by threatening the operation of the most extensive health care network in the country – the network of religiously-affiliated health care facilities – it will restrict access to health care and thus drive up costs. Poor women, single mothers, and children with chronic illnesses will be hit first and hardest. “Affordable” would be a sick joke.

What do I want to see? An end to the mandate. You think pregnancy is a disease and women’s fertility should be suppressed? Go ahead and act on those beliefs for yourself, and make a co-pay. If you think a co-pay is a war on women, wait until you hear from the women who know the mandate is a war on religion. Do not expect me to call contraception & sterilization & abortive drugs “preventive.” Do not threaten to penalize people of faith because of their faith. You exercise your beliefs and let me exercise mine. That’s right – turn the clock all the way back to January 2012.

I am grateful that New Hampshire’s people of faith are getting support from some elected officials. I am grateful to religious leaders who have spoken peacefully and relentlessly against the mandate   But you and I would be wrong to depend on anyone else to carry the banner for us. We will be wrong to depend on a political party to fix everything. We will be wrong to expect a pastor to do our work for us. We each need to claim the protection of the Bill of Rights, without apology. We each need make our case to our neighbors who don’t yet understand what the fuss is about. It’s up to you and me as Americans to let our leaders know that we will not trade away the First Amendment for our family’s medical security, and we take a very dim view any politician who thinks we should.

Don’t wait for media coverage of this event and this debate. BE the coverage. Keep spreading the news.

I make a special appeal to people of faith who oppose this mandate and are in one of two specific callings: professional health care, and caring at home for a loved one with medical challenges. People who are pushing for this mandate are counting on you to back them up, or at least to stay silent. This is not the time for silence. You have experience and credibility. Tell the world what you know about health care, and what you know about your faith, and why this mandate interferes with both.

We are not alone in speaking out. On May 21, 43 plaintiffs filed a total of twelve lawsuits in various U.S. District Courts. Yesterday, when the White House had an online town hall meeting on women’s health and invited people to submit questions via Facebook, women opposing the mandate took to the Internet in Droves. It was ironic that the video feed showed a room full of women all on board with the “Affordable” Care Act – while the women speaking out on the Facebook feed were nearly all opposed to it, with the mandate being the #1 concern.

Take the encouragement you find here today and bring it to your town, your neighbors, your pastors, and especially your elected representatives. Thank you.

Week In Review, Days Ahead

Several topics and observations today. Something for everyone, I hope. Copy and forward as you wish.

Tenacity and patience have thus far kept a few important bills going. I expect that both the partial birth ban and fetal homicide bills will be scrutinized anew by House committees on Tuesday. The Senate amended both bills, and the House may choose to concur, requiring no further action except a trip to Governor Lynch’s desk, or request a committee of conference. Concurrence would be the right outcome, since the Senate amendments didn’t gut either bill.

Lynch’s spokesman was finally moved to take note of HB 217 (the fetal homicide) a few days ago, and his remarks were not encouraging.

Keep an eye on the Cornerstone Policy Research Facebook page and @nhcornerstone Twitter feed for Tuesday coverage of House committee votes on these bills.

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Nongermane amendments are nothing new in legislative work, rules or no rules. If leadership wants one, in it goes, productive or not. Such moves always seem like a good idea at the time, at least to the person making the amendment.

The Senate sent a late term abortion ban (HB 1660) to interim study. Not so fast, replied the House last Thursday. The ban was added as an amendment to a bill on pulse oximetry for newborns (SB 348) by a four-vote margin. Less than ten minutes later, the House reversed itself. The sponsor of SB 348, the indisputably pro-life Rep. Lynne Blankenbeker (R-Concord), pleaded for the main bill, stressing that the Senate would kill it if it contained the abortion amendment.

The nongermane amendment in this case resulted in nothing more than two confusing House votes. The proponents of late-term abortions can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that New Hampshire will continue to keep abortion legal through all nine months of pregnancy.

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Filing period for the fall elections is coming up June 6-15. Details here. Some good pro-lifers have chosen not to run again, so anyone who wants to step up may find an open seat available.

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Mark your calendar for Friday, June 8th at noon. There will be a Standing Up for Religious Freedom rally outside the federal courthouse in Concord, where a similar rally was held a few months ago. As long as the federal HHS mandate is still part of Obamacare, religious freedom is under attack and no church is safe. See you there – and bring your kids, your neighbors, your minister, and even your state rep. I’ll be one of the speakers. (Please be there anyway.) There was a  Bush II era bumper sticker displayed back in the day by some disaffected voters: “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Okay, then. Let’s all be utterly patriotic on June 8th.

Mandate Rationale? Try Checking Under the Penumbra

Back in 1965, Justice Douglas of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote for the majority in the Griswold case that the right to privacy, while not explicit in the U.S. Constitution, could be derived as an “emanation” within the “penumbra” of enumerated rights. (That’s his language, not mine.) Emanations and penumbras can of course be toxic, as we learned in ’73 when Roe was handed down, buttressed by Griswold’s reasoning.

Forty-seven years later, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is apparently all on board with penumbras. She was on Capitol Hill yesterday to face Congressional questioning. One bold soul asked her how she decided the HHS contraceptive-coverage mandate could square with religious liberty. Madam Secretary’s reply:

“Congressman, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t pretend to understand the nuances of the constitutional balancing tests […] I am not going to wade into constitutional law, I’m talking about the fact that we are implementing a law that was passed by the Congress, signed by the President, which directed our department to develop a package of preventive health services for women. We have done just that with the advice of the Institute of Medicine, and promulgated that rule.”

I am indebted to Calvin Freiburger (here) and his unbeatable commentary on that answer, published in Live Action News today:
“Note well that the combination of congressional votes, presidential signatures, and the opinion of the Institute of Medicine amount to somewhere between nada and zilch when it comes to constitutional law.”

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.)