In a religious freedom/liberty conflict among religious
employers, employees, and students, who wins?
2011-2012: Catholic bishops and pro-life groups
the HHS mandate. Lawsuits against the
2012-AUG-01: Mandate activated.
2011-AUG-01: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued statement opposing HHS mandate:
Their statement was titled: "USCCB: HHS Mandate for contraceptive and abortifacient drugs violates conscience rights." 1 From the title alone, it is obvious that the Catholic Bishops in the U.S. accept the widespread beliefs among religious conservatives that emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) can cause abortions. This is not a belief generally shared by the medical community and religious liberals. 2
Their statement quoted Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities. He said:
"... under the new rule our institutions would be free to act in accord with Catholic teaching on life and procreation only if they were to stop hiring and serving non-Catholics. Could the federal government possibly intend to pressure Catholic institutions to cease providing health care, education and charitable services to the general public? Health care reform should expand access to basic health care for all, not undermine that goal.”
""The Administration’s failure to create a meaningful conscience exemption to the preventive services mandate underscores the need for Congress to approve the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act , That bill (H.R. 1179), introduced by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Dan Boren (D-OK), would prevent mandates under the new health reform law from undermining rights of conscience. ..."
"Catholics are not alone in conscientiously objecting to this mandate. The drugs that Americans would be forced to subsidize under the new rule include Ella, which was approved by the FDA as an 'emergency contraceptive' but can act like the abortion drug RU-486. It can abort an established pregnancy weeks after conception. The pro-life majority of Americans – Catholics and others – would be outraged to learn that their premiums must be used for this purpose. ..."
"HHS says the intent of its ‘preventive services’ mandate is to help ‘stop health problems before they start. But pregnancy is not a disease, and children are not a 'health problem' – they are the next generation of Americans." 1
The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011 was introduced with 223 cosponsors on 2011-MAR-17. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate: S.1467. It was referred to congressional subcommittee and did not progress. 3 A similar bill H.R. 940 was introduced in 2013-MAR-04, referred to the House Subcommittee on Health, where it did not progress. 4
Overlooked in the USCCB statement is that emergency contraceptives and birth control are used by couples to prevent or delay pregancy and childbirth -- either for now or permanently. If couples' access is reduced, then the inevitable result is a drastic rise in the number of unwanted pregnancies of which a large percentage are terminated by surgical abortions or the RU-458 abortion pill. According to the Church's teachings, abortions are such a serious sin that they are prohibited even when the only two options are to do nothing and allow both mother and fetus to die, or to perform an abortion and at least save the mother's life. But, ironically, the Church opposes the use of contraceptives to avoid the need for abortions.
2012-JUN-18: Two pro-life groups, Susan B. Anthony List and Charlotte Lozier Institute oppose HHS Mandate:
President Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List and president Chuck Donovan of the Charlotte Lozier Institute sent a joint comment to the federal Health & Human Services criticizing the HHS Mandate because of its negative impact on groups with non-religious objections. They asked that emergency contraception [EC] be deleted from the mandate because they believe it can induce abortions. Alternately, they want the Mandate to be amended to release employers and school administrators who have ethical and moral objections to EC from having to fund insurance plans that provide EC.
"Not only does the Administration’s so called 'accommodation' for religious entities not go far enough to protect religious liberty, it does not address the conscience protections needed by non-religious groups actively working to uphold the right to life. In order to maintain the moral coherence of our missions, we refuse to purchase insurance or otherwise participate in any insurance plan that includes coverage for interventions or procedures that destroy or otherwise imperil innocent human beings. The idea that we, or our insurers, are not really paying for these procedures because of the ‘cost-savings’ of abortifacients is repugnant in the first place." 5
2012 to 2014: Lawsuits against the HHS mandate:
On 2012-JUL-16, Wheaton College in Illinois joined the Catholic University of America in a lawsuit against the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. This is the usual federal court where lawsuites are filed that challenge federal laws and regulations.
Wheaton College President Dr. Philip Graham Ryken said that the college decided to initiate the lawsuit after the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2012-JUN that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional. Although Wheaton College has no objection to married couples using birth control pills, they are unwilling to provide emergency contraceptives because of their belief that EC can induce abortion. This is a belief that is generally accepted by religious conservatives and some members of Christian mainline denominations. Religious liberals, secularists, and the medical community generally believe that emergency contraception (EC) is a true contraceptive and only delays ovulation and/or prevents conception; it cannot cause an abortion. 2
According to Monifa Thomas, the medical and government health care reporter for the Chicago Sun Times, this was a very unusual event:
"The alliance marks the first time that Catholics and evangelicals have worked together to oppose a regulation in court." 6
Wheaton College was represented by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Fund reported that dozens of lawsuits have been filed to date to challenge the HHS mandate.
Thomas writes that HHS:
"... spokesman Keith Maley said the administration is developing additional accommodations in response to concerns raised by religious organizations that do not want to pay for, refer for, or provide contraception.
'We will consider the comments and suggestions received from interested stakeholders before finalizing and implementing policies that respect religious liberty while ensuring millions of women have access to recommended preventive services without cost-sharing,' Maley said.
The policy already ensures that if a woman works for a religious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide, pay for or refer for contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to directly offer her contraceptive care free of charge.
That, however, is considered a 'shell game' by many religious organizations." 2
A list of lawsuits as published by The Becket Fund:
Every one of the 180 Catholic bishops who head a diocese in the U.S. has issued a statement condemning the HHS mandate. In addition, many dioceses have filed lawsuits against the mandate.
By the end of 2012-JUL, most of the lawsuits filed were by hospitals, universities, colleges, agencies or other organizations affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Most of the lawsuits by Dioceses and Archdioceses include additional plaintiffs like :
- Archdiocese of New York et al.
- Archdiocese of St. Louis, MO
- Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL
- Belmont Abbey College
- Catholic University of America, et al.
- Diocese of Dallas, TX.
- Diocese of Erie, PA,et al.
- Diocese of Fort Wayne, IN, et al.
- Diocese of Jackson, MS, et al.
- Diocese of Joliet, IL, et al.
- Diocese of Pittsburgh, PA,et al.
- Diocese of Springfield, IL.
- EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network)
- Legatus (Catholic business association)
- Michigan Catholic Conference et al.
- Priests for Life, Staten Island, NY
- University of Notre Dame
Some non-Catholic institutions have also filed lawsuits or planned to do so:
- Colorado Christian University (nondenominational)
- Geneva College, PA (Reformed Presbyterian)
- Louisiana College (Baptist)
Some states have filed lawsuits:
Some individuals and secular companies:
- O'Brien Industrial Holdings
- Hercules Industries Inc. 7,8
Other lawsuits were filed later, making a total of over 200 plaintiffs.
However, the most important lawsuit was filed by the family that owns Hobby Lobby, a chain of hobby and craft stores across the U.S. That lawsuit made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
2012-AUG-01: HHS Mandate goes into effect:
The mandate, benefits employees and college students who have a health plan. For the first time, they have the religious and ethical freedom to choose to obtain birth control and emergency contraceptives (EC) without copays. This will result in a rapid drop in the number of unwanted pregnancies of which many are terminated by abortions. It will reduce the life discruptions and the emotional, physical and finanacial disadvantages caused by those pregancies. It will allow them to plan the timing of their pregnancies so that they can plan their families as they wish.
Unfortunately, not everyone was happy with the mandate. That is because it is an "asymmertical sum game." That is, one group composed of tens of millions of employees and students who benefit from the mandate, while a much smaller number number of employers and school administrators are required to be involved in health insurance plans that provide contraceptives without copays. They must give up the ability to control their employees' and students' choices.
Fox News described the event in negative terms from the standpoint of some employers and educational administrators:
"This day — August 1 — is a dark one for religious freedom in the United States. The Obama administration’s requirement that all insurance plans cover contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs — the HHS mandate — goes into effect today. This requirement is now binding on countless employers who have religious and moral objections to providing such insurance. This is not a dispute about contraception or abortion, but about our constitutional order: All Americans, regardless of whether they share those objections, should protest the Obama administration’s willful assault on religious liberty." 9
This essay is currently being expanded with information on the Hobby Lobby case.
How you may have arrived here:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "USCCB: HHS Mandate for Contraceptive and Abortifacient Drugs Violates Conscience Rights," United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011-AUG-01, at: http://www.usccb.org/
- Answers to frequently asked questions about how emergency contraception works," Princeton University, 2014-MAR-13, at: http://ec.princeton.edu/
- Bill Summary & Status. H.R. 1179, Library of Congress, last updated on 2011-MAR-28, at: http://thomas.loc.gov/
- Bill Summary & Status. H.R. 940, Library of Congress, last updated on 2014-MAR-12, at: http://thomas.loc.gov/
- Steven Erlelt, "Obama Admin Told to Rescind Pro-Abortion HHS Mandate," LifeNews.com, 2012-JUN-18, at: http://www.lifenews.com/
- Monifa Thomas, "Wheaton College joins suit opposing contraception mandate," Chicago Sun Times, 2012-JUL-18, at: http://www.suntimes.com/
- "HHS Mandate Information Central," The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, as read on 2012-JUL-25, at: http://www.becketfund.org/
- Thomas Peters, "51 Catholic (+16 Religious) Institutions Opposing Obama/HHS Mandate," Catholic Vote, at: http://www.catholicvote.org/
- "The HHS Mandate goes into effect," Fox News, 2012-AUG-01. at: http://www.nationalreview.com/
Copyright © 2012 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2012-JUL-08
Latest update: 2014-JUL-15
Author: B.A. Robinson