Women and Religious Liberty
The HHS mandate is a fundamental assault on our constitutional rights.

Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council


For Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, defending Americans’ religious liberty is a matter of human dignity. She testified before the House Judiciary Committee last month during their hearing on “Executive Overreach: The HHS Mandate Versus Religious Liberty.”

Monahan talks with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about the perniciousness of the coercive HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs, and some of the common myths about it.

: What is the HHS mandate fight about? Religion? Liberty? Birth control? Abortion? Uncompromising Democrats? Uncompromising Republicans?

fJEANNE MONAHAN: This is about religious liberty and the constitutional right of Americans to exercise their religious beliefs free from government intrusion. The HHS mandate, at its core, forces religious groups to violate their consciences and the moral dictates that animate their lives. The mandate is a profound violation of religious and conscience protections that America’s Founders fought for, and which, until now, have been considered basic, protected rights in the United States.


LOPEZ: Can we focus on abortion for a second? That is a part of this mandate picture, isn’t it? Why should abortion-rights advocates care?

MONAHAN: Drugs and devices that can cause abortion are included in the list of FDA-approved contraceptives that, under the mandate, every health plan must cover. It is a scientifically valid belief that pregnancy, and therefore life, begin at fertilization and not at implantation (seven to ten days after fertilization). However, drugs and devices included in the mandate have modes of action that prevent implantation. For example, Plan B, labeled as an emergency contraceptive, is included, but research has shown that it can prevent implantation and thereby cause the death of a newly developing embryo. One review of Plan B in the medical literature revealed that the drug possesses seven modes of action preventing implantation.

And one drug included in the mandate, Ella, can work post-implantation. This is particularly disturbing, because until now, regardless of where you stand on abortion, everyone has agreed that a drug that can destroy a baby post-fertilization is considered an abortion drug and is labeled as such. But not Ella. Last year, the FDA approved Ella as an “emergency contraceptive.” But it is chemically and functionally similar to the FDA-approved abortifacient RU-486. A number of studies support this — for example, in one study on macaque monkeys, Ella aborted four out of five fetuses.

LOPEZ: Why is it important or even relevant to point out in reference to the HHS mandate that “Pregnancy is not a disease,” as you did on a congressional panel recently?

MONAHAN: Pregnancy indicates a condition of good health for a woman; pregnancy is temporary and beneficial. A woman who has difficulty becoming pregnant will probably seek medical attention to remedy her malady. Pregnancy itself is a normal condition from which serious medical complications can sometimes arise but usually do not. Thus, the mandate that the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives be covered by every health-insurance provider as necessary preventive medicine defies reasonability, inasmuch as pregnancy is not a disabling condition or a disease.

LOPEZ: How does the HHS mandate violate the spirit and even the letter of long-standing federal conscience laws?

MONAHAN: In the 1970s, Congress passed the Church Amendments and, later, the Hyde–Weldon Amendment to protect health-care workers’ conscience rights on issues related to abortion or any other service in a program receiving federal funding. The HHS mandate orders health-insurance coverage in a way that violates the consciences of providers, issuers, and plan participants who have religious or moral objections, and thereby violates the spirit of these long-standing laws. In the case of Ella, HHS may be explicitly violating the Hyde–Weldon ban on the use of federal funds to discriminate against health-care entities that object to abortion.