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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Nuns off the hook for now: SCOTUS crimps Obamacare's abortifacient pills mandate

Capping off a disastrous year for the Obama administration and its signature healthcare law debacle, one of President Obama's own appointees to the Supreme Court said the Obama administration for now must put a hold on its drive to force nuns and other religious objectors to provide pills that can end the life of a developing human being. As the Washington Post reported just three minutes before ringing in the new year,
"Justice Sonia Sotomayor late Tuesday night decided to block implementation of the contraceptive coverage requirement, only hours before the law’s insurance coverage went into effect on New Year’s Day. Her decision, which came after federal court filings by Catholic-affiliated groups from around the nation in hopes of delaying the requirements, throws a part of the president’s signature law into temporary disarray."
The US Constitution's First Amendment provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."
That's pretty clear and strong, but this administration seems determined to push the limits of the First Amendment by asserting its power over citizens. Because the First Amendment is not an absolute protection--free speech does not extend to libel, for instance--there are times when the Government might be justified in stepping over the First Amendment for an exceptional reason.
Federal law (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed overwhelmingly by a bipartisan Congress two decades ago), provides guidance for such instances. The law states that whenever its actions impinge on religious freedom, the Government must demonstrate a compelling interest and must use the least restrictive means to obtain its objective.
But the Obamacare abortifacient mandate, promulgated by the Obama Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS), violates this law on both fronts.
  • First, the HHS mandate violates the compelling interest test. President Obama himself claimed that 98 percent of women already use contraceptives. The pills generally cost a few dollars and can be purchased easily in virtually any corner drugstore. Where is the compelling interest in the government suddenly inserting itself to mandate the provision of an already ubiquitous product? Moreover, of all the drugs that might merit a compelling Government interest in providing--such as truly lifesaving but expensive cancer drugs that most patients could not afford--contraceptives would be near the bottom of the list. And since when does our Government have a compelling interest in preventing the birth of babies? Only in the sad and bleak world of those who consider babies a hindrance to personal achievement does that argument resonate.
  • Second, the HHS mandate violates the least restrictive means test. The mandate requires virtually all employers (exempting houses of worship but not church-affiliated or other Christian ministries to provide free contraceptives to employees through the health insurance programs they buy. All over the world, the US Government hands out free contraceptives, courtesy of our tax dollars. But now all of a sudden, here in the USA, the US Government is unwilling to pay for contraceptives. Instead, employers and their insurance companies must provide the pills to everyone everywhere, for free--as if every woman from The Hamptons to Beverly Hills needs free contraceptives. So instead of using the least restrictive means to obtain its goal of universal contraceptives, the Obama administration uses the most restrictive means, trampling religious liberty with impunity.
The HHS abortifacients mandate says in effect, "We could provide the pills, but we'd rather make nuns provide them."
Thankfully, even President Obama's own appointee to the Supreme Court recognizes the religious liberty-trampling arrogance of such an assertion.

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