House GOP to propose religious-conscience protection bill today
posted at 9:21 am on March 5, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
In a little under an hour, three members of the House Republican caucus will announce a new legislative effort to undo the HHS contraception mandate’s infringement on freedom of religious practice, and prevent the next incursion as well. The Catholic Association sent out a press release hailing the introduction of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (HCCRA), which should face little opposition … at least in the House (via Frank Weathers):
House Representatives Diane Black (R-TN), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and John Fleming, M.D. (R-LA) will hold a press conference tomorrow, Tuesday, March 5th at 10am EST in Rayburn House Office Building Room B-318 regarding the introduction of the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (HCCRA) that would protect Americans’ First Amendment rights and would stop the Obama Administration’s assault on religious freedom. HCCRA offers reprieve from ongoing violations of our First Amendment, including full exemption from the Obama Administration’s Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate and conscience protection for individuals and health care entities that refuse to provide, pay for, or refer patients to abortion providers because of their deeply-held, reasoned beliefs.
Under the health care coverage mandate issued on August 3, 2011, widely known as the HHS mandate, organizations and their managers are now facing potentially ruinous financial penalties for exercising their First Amendment rights, as protected by law. Hobby Lobby, a family business that was denied injunctive relief from the mandate and faces fines of up to $1.3 million dollars a day, unless its owners agree to fund potentially abortion-inducing drugs. If Hobby Lobby is forced to close its doors, some 25,000 jobs nationwide may disappear. The Obama Administration’s HHS mandate exemption only includes houses of worship and does not account for the thousands of religious and non-religious affiliated employers that find it a moral hazard to cover sterilization, contraception and potentially abortion-inducing drugs on their employer-based health insurance. Ultimately, the so-called “accommodation” does not protect anyone’s religious rights, because all companies and organizations will still be forced to provide insurance coverage that includes services which conflict with their religious convictions. The HCCRA would address this violation of our First Amendment rights by providing a full exemption for all those whose religious beliefs run counter to the Administration’s HHS mandate.
It’s not just about the HHS mandate on contraception, either. The HCCRA would block efforts to force health-care providers with religious principles in opposition to abortion to participate in or facilitate such activities, too:
The HCCRA also protects institutions and individuals from forced or coerced participation in abortion. In recent years there have been several examples of nurses being told they must participate in abortions. There have also been efforts to require Catholic Hospitals to do abortions, and a Catholic social service provider was denied a grant to assist victims of human trafficking on the basis of their pro-life convictions. The HCCRA codifies and clarifies the appropriations provision known as the Hyde‐Weldon conscience clause. This is accomplished by adding the protections for health care entities that refuse to provide, pay for, or refer for abortion to the section of the Public Health Service Act known as the Coats Amendment. It also adds the option of judicial recourse for victims whose rights have been violated under the HCCRA, Coats, or the conscience clauses known as the Church amendments.
The true offense in the HHS mandate is the presumption that the government can define the free exercise of religion, which is expressly protected in the First Amendment. The Obama administration thinks it can define religious exercise as only limited to worship activities within a church, temple, mosque, synagogue, meeting hall, etc. Even its most recent “accommodation” on the mandate makes that assumption by granting certain “exemptions” to the mandate for non-profit groups affiliated with religious organizations. It doesn’t recognize an individual right to express one’s faith or the First Amendment bar on infringing on individual exercise of religion, which is why the USCCB categorically rejected that latest condescension from the White House.
The HCCRA doesn’t quite dismantle that arrogance, but it will do the next-best thing, which is to prevent the White House from being able to impose it on others. However, that’s only going to happen if the Senate passes the HCCRA and Barack Obama signs it. That’s unlikely, especially in stand-alone form, although it might have a slightly better chance as an amendment on some legislation that Democrats really want. The most effective method would be to attach it to the continuing resolution, but John Boehner has already said that the House will produce a “clean” bill for the CR, so that path is out.
We’ll see if the trio can find a good vehicle for a bill that deserves to win on its own merits, and whose inability to do so says much more about its opponents than it does about the bill itself.