Affordable Care and the 1st Amendment
President Obama has always promoted the idea of “shared responsibility” as a primary reason for supporting his policies.
As government policy goes, shared responsibility is a great idea as long as it:
- Is constitutional
- Preserves individual liberty
- Encourages individual responsibility
- Is affordable
These are core American values. Yes, even affordability is basic to being American. It is the engine the drives capitalism, free markets and prosperity. It respects taxpayers who foot government’s bills.
Shared responsibility has crossed swords with the Constitution through the “Affordable Care Act“, better known as Obamacare, in at least two ways:
- The contraceptive controversy
- The Individual Mandate
This time I’ll limit comment to last week’s contraceptive controversy.
The Contraceptive Services Debate
Obamacare has two interlinked mandates that matter in this debate:
- Mandated health insurance coverage
- Mandated coverage for contraceptive services
Shared responsibility, implemented through the health insurance mandate, transformed into a first amendment debate when the government, through Obamacare, imposed both mandates on all religious organizations irrespective of their church doctrine.
Churches, as employers, are required to provide health care coverage and every health insurer is required to provide contraceptive services.
No organization, family or citizen, under any conditions, are allowed to opt out. In this case, the government mandate to provide contraceptive services directly conflicts with religion and the first amendment that specifically says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
On the practice of religion, the Constitution is clear.
A constitutional controversy exploded last week when it was announced that all health care providers, including religious ones, must provide contraceptive services to their clients.
Being contrary to church doctrine, it caused a huge fuss with the Roman Catholic Church that widely provides health care services.
The President quickly backpedaled and came up with a compromise that has split the Roman Catholic Church. You’ll never see a President or Congress act faster to defuse a controversy than in an election year. It took, what, three days? Heck, it took three years and an act of Congress to get the President to finally make a Keystone XL decision.
The contraceptive compromise is to disguise providing contraceptive services through winks, nods, and paperwork.
That does not make it constitutional.
Isn’t Contraceptive Services Just a Health Care Issue?
No! In this case, it isn’t.
Should the government provide contraceptive (and abortion) services to U.S. citizens? Yes. Of course. Why? Because it saves taxpayers money!
It has nothing to do with morality or a woman’s right to chose or anything else. Its pure dollars and cents. When women don’t have those options, especially among the poor, it costs all of us down the road not only in dollars but also in general social and economic misfortune.
But you have to draw the line when providing contraceptive services prevents the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the first amendment.
What About Popular Beliefs and Actual Practices?
A New York Times/CBS poll reports:
On contraceptive coverage, 65 percent of voters in the poll said they supported the Obama administration’s requirement that health insurance plans cover the cost of birth control, and 59 percent, said the health insurance plans of religiously affiliated employers should cover the cost of birth control.
– Marjorie Connelly, New York Times, 2/14/2012
There ya go! That explains President Obama’s speed-of-light election year decision. Quickly give voters what they want by sidestepping the Constitution to avoid controversy.
It has been said that 98% of Catholic women practice birth control. But that isn’t the issue.
God does not make decisions based on popular consent or New York Times/CBS polls.
Nor should any religion be forced by a secular government to change their doctrine or practices.
Ironically, Obamacare contains language specifically designed to prevent first amendment rights violations based on religious doctrine opposing abortion.
Health insurers don’t have to provide abortion services if there are religious objections. That same language could easily be adapted, and probably should have been originally, to include contraception. As it is today, it would require changing the law.
Instead, the President opted for an election year gimmick that leaves the Catholic Church divided.
The job of religion is to interpret and practice the Word of God as followers understand it. That right is guaranteed by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution and, as such, is beyond contestation.
It is clear that providing contraceptive services is against Roman Catholic doctrine whether practiced by the majority of Catholic women or not.
Catholic women have the right to make private decisions according to their own consciences or religious beliefs. That cannot be denied.
But secular government in the United States, through slight of hand or otherwise, does NOT have the right to force religions to go against their own doctrines.