Opinion

Leaked HHS Interim Final Rule Proves Women’s Rights And Conscience Can Coexist

For six years, organizations with religious and moral objections to certain contraceptive products and services have been fighting for their religious freedom against the harsh mandates of Obamacare. The question brought repeatedly before federal courts hasn’t been about limiting access to contraception, only why the federal government is forcing faithful objectors to violate their beliefs.

Fortunately, President Trump and his administration are a breath away from dispensing with this controversy, which has been one of the most unnecessary fights in recent American legal history.

On May 4, 2017, the President took a crucial step forward by issuing an Executive Order directing Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to reconsider the mandate. Just recently, a copy of the interim final rule has appeared in the press, proving what we knew all along: women’s contraceptive coverage can be provided without forcing religious organizations to provide them.

Under Obamacare’s coercive HHS mandate, religious ministries like the Little Sisters of the Poor faced an impossible choice: either deny their deeply held beliefs and provide coverage for drugs they deem to be morally objectionable, or face paying tens of millions of dollars a year to the federal government in penalties.

Meanwhile, the health plans for huge corporations like Exxon and Pepsi are exempted from this mandate altogether. Only in Washington would anyone call this “fair.” It certainly isn’t common sense.

As a one-time single mother of three, a nurse of more than 40 years and a female Member of Congress in an institution long dominated by men, I understand from personal experience the weight and variety of demands that life throws at women. Our lives shift in seasons, each bringing its own joys and challenges. I also know that the dichotomy that was set up under the Obama Administration pitting religious belief against access to contraception was false and unnecessary.

The HHS contraceptive mandate was challenged before the Supreme Court five separate times. The fifth time, President Obama’s own Department of Justice finally conceded that it was possible to accomplish expanding general contraceptive coverage to women without hijacking the Little Sisters’ insurance plan or their faith.

Since coming to Congress, I have been the lead sponsor on legislation to address the attack on religious women, like the Little Sisters, created by the HHS mandate, and I was privileged to lead more than 200 Members of Congress in submitting an amicus brief at the Supreme Court on their behalf. Religious freedom has been at the core identity of our nation since our founding. There’s no excuse to trample on those personal rights unnecessarily. That is why I am proud to see the Trump Administration beginning to right this wrong.

Today I am joined by 72 of my colleagues in urging HHS to publish this draft rule immediately to ensure that religious organizations and family businesses never have to face Obamacare’s penalties for living life according to their personal beliefs.

Congressman Diane Black is Chairman of the House Budget Committee and a registered nurse of more than 40 years