Thursday, February 09, 2012

HHS Mandate on Reproductive Services is Federal Power Grab

As with many pieces of legislation, the initial intention may not be the intended final result. Take for instance the new mandate issued by HHS on reproductive services and religious institutions. This is not about contraception, it is about the threat of legislation merging into Catholic or other religious institutions. Notre Dame University and Catholic University are noting the obvious intrusion of this administration on how they insure employees.

The new mandate blessed by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, to the reported dismay of former Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Vice President Biden (both Catholic men), would require all employers to provide employees with reproductive services coverage, whether that is birth control or other medical services for women. While many - from both parties - are focusing on the subject of birth control, the bigger issue is the overreach of the federal government into the religious freedom of its citizens.

Senator Cornyn points out that it is the Obama way to overreach, to force government into our lives again and again. He sent a letter to President Obama on Wednesday, calling on him to end the mandate.

“It is incumbent on this Administration to ensure that the rights of all individuals and entities to freely exercise their religious and moral beliefs are both respected and protected.

“Providing an additional year for compliance with the mandate does not address the fundamental infringement on these individuals’ Constitutional rights. It merely delays the violation of those rights.”

Sen. Cornyn vowed to repeal the mandate at a Senate Republican Leadership press conference yesterday. He is a cosponsor of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012, both of which would provide protections for individuals and organizations who, because of their religious beliefs, are opposed to certain government mandates included in Obamacare.

This is not simply a case of the opposition party criticizing a policy decision, either. Some Democrats have already come forward with their own objections to the decision. Even the former DNC chairman hopped on the bandwagon.

The key Democratic break with Obama came from his close ally and former DNC chairman Tim Kaine, running for the Senate in a hotly-contested battleground. Kaine, whose Catholic devotion is a major part of his biography, said he favored additional religious exemptions for Catholic employers.

It's a notable break for a candidate who, for the most part, has stood with the president on most major decisions. It's also one of the clearest signs that the administration might have a made a political miscalculation with its decision. After all, it's not every day that a major Senate candidate in a key swing state Obama needs to win, who has stood with him on almost everything else, breaks with him.

And pro-life Democrats have a voice in Sen Bob Casey, (D-PA):

Casey, who opposes abortion rights, sent a letter to Obama last week urging him to "correct this decision."

Casey's split with Obama on the issue makes sense politically. His last name is a rallying cry for pro-life Democrats, thanks to his father's outspoken opposition to abortion rights. And Pennsylvania is one of the few states where the party's solidly working-class base could break with the president on the decision. According to exit polls from the 2008 presidential election, 32 percent of Pennsylvania voters identified themselves as Catholics.

Facing a potentially tough reelection fight, Casey can't afford to alienate working-class voters who might be offended by the HHS mandate. It's important to note that Vice President Joe Biden, a Scranton native who regularly talks up his working-class Catholic background, has been notably silent about the decision. A decent number of Democratic voters in areas like Scranton and Pittsburgh will have major problems with the president's decision.

Make no mistake, this was a decision made by the president at the insistence of top female staffers - Valerie Jarrett, to name one, who supported Sebelius' ideological overhaul of America's health care delivery system - and the pro-choice Democratic voters in swing states. In this election year, why in the world would a candidate like President Obama jump into reproductive health issues that are a traditional hot button issues if not to play to his base support? It is cynical and unfortunately, all to often this is what we now come to expect for President Obama.

This is ham-handed, unnecessary overreach. President Obama will market it as a womens' health issue. The women working for him will insist on it. The opportunistic feminist Democratic women in Congress will jump on board, too. We have seen Sen Boxer try her best to appear as some principled warrior for women. The problem with that is Sen Boxer is only a warrior for bigger government for private medical decisions and never stands up for those who may have a different personal political philosophy. In fact, she enjoys demonizing her opposition, regardless of gender.

What President Obama didn't understand is that this mandate has united those willing to fight for personal freedom on both sides of the aisle. A majority of Americans see this for what it is - an infringement of personal rights to freedom of religion - and not about the issue of providing birth control to women. Institutions run by religious orders are allowed to opt out of federal mandates with what is commonly called a conscience clause. This mandate destroys that option.

Now that the administration is looking for a way to walk back this big time mistake - the Catholic voting population is large and reliable to get out to vote - we are told that HHS included a one year grace period for complying with the mandate.

From the memo:
Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law. Employers wishing to take advantage of the additional year must certify that they qualify for the delayed implementation. This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule. We intend to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support. We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.
Catholic Charities has a partnership with the federal government. By taking federal money to help run its social programs, it is clear the extents of the deal are now coming back to bite them.

So here we are, with the government demanding that the church hold up its end of a Faustian bargain that was supposed to permit it to perform limitless acts of virtue. Instead, what the government believes the deal is about, more than anything else, is compliance.

Politically bloodless liberals would respond that, net-net, government forcings do much social good despite breaking a few eggs, such as the Catholic Church's First Amendment sensibilities. That is one view. But the depth of anger among Catholics over this suggests they recognize more is at stake here than political results. They are right. The question raised by the Catholic Church's battle with ObamaCare is whether anyone can remain free of a U.S. government determined to do what it wants to do, at whatever cost.
The Catholic Church has stumbled into the central battle of the 2012 presidential campaign: What are the limits to Barack Obama's transformative presidency? The Catholic left has just learned one answer: When Mr. Obama says, "Everyone plays by the same set of rules," it means they conform to his rules. What else could it mean?

Accepting money from the government diminishes personal freedom, it does not expand it. This is true for individuals and organizations alike. The Catholic organizations are learning this lesson the hard way.

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