President Obama promised not to “give any ground” on the contraception mandate that went into effect yesterday, despite lawsuits that contend the mandate violates the religious liberty of Americans who oppose contraception but will have to fund it anyway.
“[Women] are beginning to gain access to contraception at no additional cost I’m not going to give any ground to those who would deny women their own health care choices,” Obama told the women of the BlogHer conference in a video feed address. He was referring to the Health and Human Services Department’s mandate that insurance policies provide all women with free contraception and arguing that the refusal to pay for someone’s contraception is tantamount to denying that person access to health care.
The regulation, which passed into law as part of the Obamacare bill, went into effect on August 1st. It has come under fire from religious leaders of various backgrounds, including the Roman Catholic bishops who supported the broader health care law.
“[The mandate] will force conscientious private employers to violate their consciences,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in June. HHS exempted churches from the requirement, “but but the Catholic bishops say the government’s definition of a church is too narrow and leaves out faith-based institutions such as charities, schools and hospitals that employ or serve mostly non-Catholics,” as the LA Times explained.
Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance criticized the exemption as she argued that the mandate will force taxpayers to pay for abortions. “Now practicing Christian and pro-life Americans are forced to subsidize other women’s abortion-inducing drugs or sterilizations,” Nance said in a statement. “Only a select few have been deemed ‘religious enough’ under this administration to deserve to be exempted from this mandate.”
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told reporters that the exemption is broad enough. “What I do believe is that the Obama administration carved out a very sensible, sort of middle ground exception to this, in which churches, religious organizations, certainly are exempted from this, but for-profit businesses, a broad variety, they don’t have to pay in if they don’t want to for the individual, but they do have to pay into the health care and it’s up to the insurance companies whether or not they want to carry this as a provision,” he said this week. “So, I think the exception that the Obama administration come up with is sensible.”
A federal judge in Colorado granted a private company a temporary reprieve — a preliminary injunction — from the mandate on the basis of religious liberty. “On balance, the threatened harm to Plaintiffs, impingement of their right to freely exercise their religious beliefs, and the concomitant public interest in that right s[t]rongly favor the entry of injunctive relief,” Judge John Kane, a Carter appointee, wrote in his ruling last week.
The company that files the lawsuit is owned by Roman Catholics who self-insure and so do not benefit from the exemption.
Marcia Greenberger of the National Women’s Law Center doubts that Kane’s initial ruling will stand. “It would so upend our whole legal system to allow any employer to decide for itself, what are its beliefs, and then impose them on its employees,” she told reporters this week. “I just don’t see that as something the courts will tolerate ultimately.”