The Obama administration’s contraception mandate takes effect Wednesday to cheers from liberal women’s groups and protest from religious freedom advocates.
Tuesday the administration heralded the implementation of eight facets of Obamacare’s preventative-care coverage for women, the contraceptive mandate among them.
“President Obama is moving our country forward by giving women control over their health care,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “This law puts women and their doctors, not insurance companies or the government, in charge of health care decisions.”
The new regulations require all insurance companies to cover well-woman visits, gestational diabetes screenings, domestic and interpersonal violence counseling, FDA-approved contraception, breastfeeding supplies, HPV DNA testing, sexually transmitted infection counseling, and HIV testing without additional co-pays. The rules take effect at the following insurance renewal date on or after Wednesday.
Religious freedom advocates have been distraught by the requirement to cover contraceptive services, as some religions, notably the Catholic Church, have beliefs that conflict with the mandate.
HHS contends that certain non-profit religious organizations such as churches and schools are not required to cover the services. Non-exempt employers that have religious objections, which do not comply will be penalized. According to the Congressional Research Service employers who do not comply could be hit with a federal tax of $100 per-day-per-employee.
Nebraska Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who was elected in 2004, will join freshmen GOP House members to mark the “The Day Religious Freedom Died” in the House Triangle Wednesday. In an interview with The Daily Caller on the eve of the mandate’s implementation, Fortenberry explained that although the day will come and pass, there will be long-term implications.
“The day is significant in that it represents a deep affront to one of our most honored traditions, that of the rights to conscience, as well as religious liberty,” Fortenberry said. “The government is asking people to choose: follow your deeply held religious beliefs or obey this edict and that is a false choice. It is un-American, it is unjust, it is unnecessary, it again violates a deeply held traditional principle of the rights of conscience and liberty in our country that were operative in our country until this new health care law came along.”
March 2011, in anticipation of potential conscience conflicts from mandates within Obamacare, Fortenberry introduced the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which would amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to protect rights of conscience for coverage. The bipartisan bill has 223 cosponsors and is currently pending in committee.
While religious freedom advocates grapple with the short- and long-term implications, feminists have been vocal about their support for the mandate. On a Tuesday conference call with reporters, Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, called Wednesday’s implementation of preventative-services for women the Title IX for women’s health care.
“What we have here is the single biggest legislative event probably, for women, since Title IX, in that it opens the door to health care so women are not the other any longer, that the standard of care is not measured for a man and everything for a woman is considered extra. In fact now it is not only not being considered extra but it will be — the well-woman package — makes it the standard of care of preventive services that will help not only the women but her family, her offspring, her entire community. This is indeed a major advance for women, for their rights, and we’re willing to and will fight for them.”
The feminists’ gospel has nonetheless failed to trump the original Gospel, at least for the religiously minded.
“The implementation of this policy [Wednesday] marks the beginning of the end of religious freedom in our nation,” added Christen Varley, executive director of Conscience Cause a non-profit faith advocacy organization, in a statement. “Starting [Wednesday], employers with religious and moral objections must make an unimaginable choice: comply and deny your faith, or resist and be subject to crippling fines. Religious institutions have been given an absurd one year reprieve in which to decide the same.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, reasserted the importance of contraception Tuesday in advance of the implementation.
“Contraception is an important part of women’s health care,” Keenan said in a statement. “That’s why we support President Obama’s policy that will make it possible for women to get insurance coverage of birth control without a copay, regardless of where they work. Some politicians and anti-contraception groups refuse to give up on their efforts to make it harder for women to get birth control. They want any small business, corporation, or insurance company, on the basis of personal beliefs, to deny any essential health-care service, including contraceptive coverage. These politicians and groups are out of touch with our values and priorities. That’s why we will stand with President Obama and other allies in fighting to protect contraceptive coverage for women.”
Friday, a District Court in Colorado granted a family business — the Newland family and their company, Hercules Industries — an injunction against the mandate, which conflicts with their Catholic beliefs. The decision represented the first successful challenge to the regulation. The courts were one of the three methods Fortenberry identified in his interview with TheDC as methods to confront the challenge to religious freedom, the other two being through legislation and elections.
“Confidence in the system and hope for religious liberty was mildly restored when a federal district judge issued a temporary injunction blocking Barack Obama’s health care mandate from compelling a business to provide insurance coverage of sterilization, contraception, and abortion-inducing drugs,” concluded Gary Marx, Executive Director, Faith & Freedom Coalition. “This is certainly a victory but the fact that it only applies to one company means the federal government is still going to force millions of Americans to choose between having health insurance or their conscience and faith. With an administration intent on suppressing religious liberty, we can expect an historic turnout of voters of faith show up in November.”
*This story has been updated to reflect the year Fortenberry was elected.