Matalin: Religious liberty is the issue at stake in the HHS mandate

The Obama White House and its allies in the media continue to pretend that the controversy over the HHS mandate is all about keeping women from accessing birth control, a claim that’s absurd on its face.  For instance, Obama appeared in Iowa on Thursday and tossed out this bit of demagoguery:

We don’t need another political fight about ending a woman’s right to choose, or getting rid of Planned Parenthood — (applause) — or taking away affordable birth control.

No one is trying to take away “affordable birth control.”  For that matter, no one is attempting to “get rid” of Planned Parenthood either, although many of us would be happy to see it disappear on its own.  The only action taken against Planned Parenthood is to keep taxpayer dollars from flowing into a business that makes almost all of its profit on abortions, and which in at least a number of cases has been exposed as arguably acting outside the law, and certainly outside the bounds of normal ethics when it comes to protecting minors.  Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing abortion mills.

In fact, no one is trying to take away anything — except for Barack Obama, Kathleen Sebelius, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which are attempting to strip Americans of one of our most cherished liberties: the freedom of religious expression.  For the first time in US history, an administration has arrogated to itself the option of defining religious expression in order to curtail it.  Mary Matalin writes about the true stakes in this fight for CNN this weekend:

For the first time in our nation’s history, the government has launched a full-fledged assault on our religious institutions to force them to pay for services that go against their religious convictions. The compromise offered by the administration allowing religious institutions a year to transition to the new system is no compromise. They are still forced to pay for services in direct conflict with their faith or incur severe penalties that could effectively drive them out of business.

This is the most despicable violation of religious liberty that this nation has ever seen. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, outlined it best when he said, “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.” A year is a pitiful concession to make when they are essentially telling people that if they do not violate their conscience, the government will put them out of business.

Catholic institutions, however, are not taking this assault lying down. This week, 43 of them have filed lawsuits across the nation challenging the mandate’s intrusion on religious liberty.

This sentiment is felt not only among Catholics but also among Jewish, Protestant and other religious groups. Though these groups do not necessarily have a uniform religious teaching against some of the mandate’s provisions, they do have a uniform agreement that a coercive government does not have the right to say that these religious institutions must violate their consciences.

These religious leaders realize that if government can impose these mandates against conscience rights on Catholics, what other mandates will they impose them on next?

Whatever they can, especially by stoking hysteria over crises that don’t actually exist.  In February, I wrote about a study published in 2009 by the CDC which took a 20-year look at the issue.  The CDC found that there is no crisis in access to contraception, and in fact the CDC study never mentions access issues at all when finding that 99% of all sexually active women of reproductive age who wanted to use birth control had accessed it:

Employers still have to provide coverage — at no cost, not even copays — for contraception and abortifacients such as “ella” and Plan B, as well as IUDs. Here’s a question few are asking: Why? Obama and his administration insist that women need better access to contraception and abortifacients, but few women have problems accessing them. The CDC reported in 2009 that contraception use wasn’t exactly lacking: “Contraceptive use in the United States is virtually universal among women of reproductive age: 99 percent of all women who had ever had intercourse had used at least one contraceptive method in their lifetime.” Of all the reasons for non-use of contraception in cases of unwanted pregnancy, lack of access doesn’t even make the CDC’s list; almost half of women assumed they couldn’t get pregnant (44 percent), didn’t mind getting pregnant (23 percent), didn’t plan to have sex (14 percent), or worried about the side effects of birth control (16 percent). In fact, the word access appears only once in this study of contraceptive use, and only in the context of health insurance, not contraception.

It’s good to see other religious leaders uniting in this fight.  However, are Catholic bishops themselves united?  Donald Cardinal Wuerl of Washington DC and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore discussed on EWTN reports of division among Catholic bishops, calling them an artifact of wishful thinking in the media.  The only debate at the USCCB was on timing and strategy, not on opposition to the mandate and its overreach.  The bishop that supposedly dissented, according to media reports, was the same one who wrote the USCCB statement against the HHS mandate:

So no, there is no division among the Catholic bishops, either.  Unless the White House backs down from the mandate or the Supreme Court throws out the entire ObamaCare law next month, they don’t appear willing to soft-pedal their opposition to it, either, as the coordinated lawsuits that Catholic institutions filed this week demonstrated.

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David Strom 6:41 PM on January 26, 2023