Shutting down government to protect the Mandate: Shea-Porter, free pills, and religious liberty

On the How They’re Doing in D.C. scoreboard, I hereby give a point to Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter for answering her mail promptly. I then deduct ten for the content of her message.

As a resident of New Hampshire’s First Congressional district, I emailed Shea-Porter as a “government shutdown” loomed, involving funding for the president’s health care law. I told her that voting to fund government operations while withholding funding from Obamacare was fine with me. Her reply was in my inbox a few short hours later.

From the desk of CSP

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.

One of these things is not like the others … 

Note her email’s smooth blend of HPV testing, domestic violence counseling, and birth control. All are “women’s preventive health services,” according to Shea-Porter, reading from the HHS playbook. That term is the source of the HHS mandate, that outrage against the First Amendment, beside which Obamacare’s other flaws pale in comparison.

When the Department of Health and Human Services came up with regulations (in excess of 15,000 pages so far) to enforce the ACA, it defined certain “preventive” services required to be included in every health insurance plan. Those preventive services are to be provided at no cost to a covered individual, meaning no co-pay, meaning in turn that the costs are actually shared by everyone enrolled in the plan.

HPV testing is a way to monitor for cervical cancer (although it can’t prevent it, contrary to what CSP wrote; perhaps she meant Gardasil injections). So far, so good. Domestic violence counseling can prevent injury to women. Still good, although it is a puzzle to me why such counseling isn’t classified as preventive service for men as well. And that brings us to the third example of a “preventive” service cited by my congressional representative: birth control for women. It can prevent pregnancy, which under the psychedelic terms of the ACA is right up there with cancer and violence on the list of Things To Be Prevented. Men’s fertility doesn’t rate the same level of caution under the law.

My religion, among others, holds as an article of faith that human life is sacred and that fertility is not a disease. There is a sharp and clear line between contraception and health care. Further, my religion holds that contraception and abortion-inducing drugs are not only not health care but are evils to be rejected. A law that mandates that I help provide those things for other people, on pain of fines or other sanctions, is therefore an attack on my First Amendment right of religious liberty. This is true whether I am acting as a private individual or as a business owner.

If only the President and Secretary Sebelius hadn’t insisted on that “preventive” designation, we wouldn’t be having our disagreement. Up until that mandate, I had no constitutional problem with my neighbor buying her own birth control pills, since she didn’t reach into my pocket for help paying for them. Under Obamacare, such a live-and-let-live attitude is no longer consistent with public policy. In the President’s world, as in Shea-Porter’s, free birth control for women is on the same level as caring for my sick child or my ailing elders.

“Unprecedented control”

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.

“Extreme measures”

“We should start by passing a clean Continuing Resolution that funds the government, without attaching extreme measures to defund, delay, or erode the ACA.”

So what extreme measures might those be? Or are all measures extreme that interfere with Obamacare? Is there a moderate measure I can ask for – common ground, if you will – that will persuade Shea-Porter to give the First Amendment its due vis-a-vis the HHS mandate?

There was no time in our brief email exchange to explore those questions. I suspect she considers all opposition to ACA “extreme,” but again, I may be taking too dim a view.

This I know: the HHS mandate seeks to make every American complicit in the suppression of women’s fertility as a public health priority. Free pills on the house, so to speak. That’s extreme.

The shutdown

My email from Shea-Porter came just a short time after President Obama claimed “The Affordable Care Act is moving forward….[it] is a law that voters chose not to repeal last November.” Voters who stayed home last November 6, for whatever reason, have much to answer for. But here we are.

The government is “shut down” as I write, meaning no PandaCam or hikes in Yosemite, although the microphones in Washington seem to be operating at full power. Each party blames the other.  As an independent voter, I am weary of that. What is absolutely clear to me is that Obamacare partisans like my congressional representative are fully committed to putting the HHS mandate ahead of every other priority in the budget.

In her email, Shea-Porter defended the HHS mandate without calling it by name. She added insult to injury by ignoring the good faith of people who have religious objections to it. She professes the Catholic faith, as do I. She is following her conscience without recognizing my right to follow my own.

I’ll support any measure that forces reconsideration of Obamacare. Its carveouts are unacceptable; it chills expansion of small businesses; its early cost estimates are already looking ridiculously low. Any one of those issues should be enough to trigger delay and reappraisal. Important as they are, none of those flaws are as bad as the HHS mandate. It must be torn up, thrown out, disavowed. I refuse to choose between health care and the First Amendment. I want them both and I won’t settle for less.

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Dear GOP, about that mandate …

What does a blogger do when she’s not blogging? Among other things, yours truly keeps writing other things. I was asked recently what one thing I’d like to see the GOP emphasize in ’14. (How come no one ever asks my opinion about what Democrats should do? I have a few ideas.) I wrote this short piece making a case that the First Amendment vs. the HHS mandate ought to get some attention.

Please comment with your own ideas for any party whatsoever. What ideas or policies need to be in the spotlight as we approach the 2014 election?

Will the real mandate please stand up?

I had hoped to post some straightforward news here for you to reconcile two seemingly contradictory announcements from Washington about the “Affordable” Care Act. I’m sorry to say that I’ve fallen short so far. I welcome comments from readers who can translate all this for our mutual benefit. Everything about the ACA will hit home in New Hampshire just as in the other 49 states.

June 28: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services posted its “final” rule on the HHS mandate, saying that employers who refuse to subsidize contraception and abortion-inducing agents for their female employees are still subject to sanctions. I recommend this advisory from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty about so-called “accommodations.” Leaven had a few words about this “final” rule.

July 2: The U.S. Treasury Department announced that the reporting requirements imposed on employers by ACA will be suspended until 2015. Those requirements are in themselves a mandate. So we have a paperwork mandate that won’t be enforced, by order of the executive branch, acting without the consent of the legislative branch, which passed the ACA.

Confusing, if not dizzying. According to the Becket Fund statement cited above, the July 2 announcement “says nothing about the $100 per employee daily tax penalty [for failing to comply with the HHS mandate], which is in a different statute and subject to an entirely separate reporting requirement not mentioned in the Treasury statement.”

I take all this as an affirmation by the current Administration that concerns over excess paperwork are a good reason to change a mandate, while concerns about religious liberty are not.



“Conscience be damned” as HHS mandate finalized today

The Obama Administration has finalized plans to implement the HHS mandate, ignoring challenges on First Amendment grounds from numerous businesses, agencies, and individuals.

I’ll report more on this in coming days. Meantime, I recommend this link by Kathryn Lopez:

Life & Liberty: some borrowed thoughts on Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day weekend, my thoughts and prayers go to our nation’s fallen soldiers and sailors, and to the nation for which they died. I won’t be called to make that particular sacrifice for my country. It’s almost tempting to think that those who died fighting for American freedom have somehow protected me from having to give that freedom much thought.

image from Wikipedia/Creative Commons
image from Wikipedia, Creative Commons

If only. I refuse to concede the rights to life and religious liberty to people who would take those rights and relegate them to some figurative historical attic. (I note that freedom of the press is taking a hit this week as well. That’s been well-covered elsewhere.)

I am thankful to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia for his recent public statement, aptly titled “Religious Freedom and the Need to Wake Up.” Click on the link for the entire worthwhile essay. Read on for an excerpt. I don’t pretend that essays and speeches are on a par with dying for one’s country. I am grateful, beyond my powers to express, that those who died left the rest of us free to debate and defend our beliefs, protected by the Constitution.

From the Archbishop’s statement:

[H]ealth care has now morphed into a religious liberty issue provoked entirely – and needlessly — by the current White House.  Despite a few small concessions under pressure, the administration refuses to withdraw or reasonably modify a Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate that violates the moral and religious convictions of many individuals, private employers and religiously affiliated and inspired organizations.

Coupled with the White House’s refusal to uphold the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and its astonishing disregard for the unique nature of religious freedom displayed by its arguments in a 9-0 defeat in the 2012 Hosanna-Tabor Supreme Court decision, the HHS mandate can only be understood as a form of coercion.  Access to inexpensive contraception is a problem nowhere in the United States.  The mandate is thus an ideological statement; the imposition of a preferential option for infertility.  And if millions of Americans disagree with it on principle – too bad.

…None of this is finally surprising. Christians concerned for the rights of unborn children, as well as for their mothers, have dealt with bias in the media and dishonesty from the nation’s abortion syndicate for 40 years.  But there’s a special lesson in our current situation.  Anyone who thinks that our country’s neuralgic sexuality issues can somehow be worked out respectfully in the public square in the years ahead, without a parallel and vigorous defense of religious freedom, had better think again.