“The Obama administration has mandated that religious employers must pay for abortion-inducing drugs,” is the simple and direct message that Conscience Cause is trying to get across in Senate races across the country, via voter guides released this week. In the below interview with National Review Online, Christen Varley, executive director of the effort explains what they’re up to.
Kathyrn Jean Lopez: Your voter guides focus on “abortion-inducing drugs.” But isn’t the HHS mandate all about contraception?
Christen Varley: The Obama administration, supporters of the mandate, and the media want us to believe this is simply about access to contraception. It’s been largely ignored that there are abortion-inducing drugs included in the mandate. We want to make sure people understand all that is being required. It helps explain why more people than just Catholics are up in arms about it — and in court about it, too.
Lopez: Is focusing on the abortion drugs as disingenuous as the Obama campaign pretending it’s primarily about contraceptive access and women’s health?
VARley: No. When we inform voters that the government is requiring religious people to violate their consciences, we have to explain how. We are simply pointing out what the administration has been trying to hide. Of course, they call these abortifacients “contraception,” but we know there is a difference. I suppose if you support the mandate you might not want this information out there.
#more#Lopez: What races are you focusing on and how did you come to choose them?
VARLEY: Conscience Cause has, from the beginning, considered the U.S. Senate to be our concern. There is widespread bi-partisan support in the House to amend — and ideally rescind — the mandate. In early 2012, the Blunt amendment, which would have extended exemptions from the mandate to religious institutions and employers, failed in the Senate. The senators that voted against the Blunt amendment are an obstacle in the fight to protect religious freedom. Voters need to know who they are.
Lopez: Isn’t Conscience Cause just another way to defeat Democrats, just another arm of the Tea Party?
VARLEY: Conscience Cause is made up of leaders from both political parties as well as many different faiths who want to preserve and protect religious freedom. I went back and looked at the guides, and it’s remarkable that all the senators that support the mandate are Democrats. I think that is more of a problem for the Democratic party than it is for us. Why are these Democrats not standing up for religious freedom?
Lopez: Is it notable that someone like Scott Brown, from a northeastern state, who is not an opponent of legal abortion, opposes this mandate?
VARLEY: Scott Brown has long been a proponent of conscience rights. He opposes taxpayer funding of abortion. His opposition to the mandate is consistent with his record. One need not be pro-life to support religious freedom. In fact, one need not be a “believer “ to support religious freedom either. Freedom of religion is fundamental to our nation. It is our first freedom. How any elected official who swears an oath to protect and defend the constitution supports this mandate is beyond my understanding.
LOPEZ: How did we get this far? Where the federal government mandates such things?
VARLEY: Honestly, we allowed it to happen. We’re human — we take for granted what we have until it’s gone. There has been a lot of handwringing over how far we’ve fallen so fast. It is time, however, to stop wondering how and start working to reverse it. This is why we created Conscience Cause and why we created the guides for this election. Voters are paying attention like never before to the liberties the government is infringing upon and they are looking for new political (and religious) leaders who will defend us from a government that governs contrary to the Constitution.
LOPEZ: Do people appreciate what’s going on?
VARLEY: More and more every day. For all the accusations that this is another astroturf movement, the grassroots efforts I am seeing and hearing about across the country are remarkable. This may be bigger than the Tea Party! Meetings are being held and people are handing out fliers at church services. Religious-freedom groups are forming in individual parishes. State networks are popping up. Americans take their faith very seriously — we know how lucky we are to be able to live and express and practice our faith out in the open. We know how effectively and efficiently our faith-based institutions and charities serve our communities. We are well aware of the loss we face if they are forced to close.
LOPEZ: How did you get involved in political activism, never mind this fight in particular?
VARLEY: I’ve always been interested in politics — I studied political science in college and did a few internships with candidates and political organizations. I lived for a year in eastern Europe in the early 90s and got to see firsthand what decades of oppression does to society. Of course, I also got to see how quickly people embrace freedom when it is restored to them. As a stay-home mom for twelve years, I was a busy volunteer on various efforts but seeing the accelerated pace of government encroachment in our lives in the last several years shocked me. I got involved in the tea-party movement and decided that I would spend the rest of my life working to restore and protect our constitutional freedoms.
LOPEZ: What are you finding in Ohio when you talk about the threats posed by the Obama administration to conscience and religious liberty?
VARLEY: I am thrilled that so many people are aware of the problems associated with what at first appears to be a simple mandate. The Obama administration’s new definition of what qualifies as “religious” is unprecedented. It changes how our country operates. We have an administration that wants to make this an argument about access to birth control, especially for women in economic difficulty. The problem is we know that placing limits on who is “religious” and, therefore, on who can be hired and who can be served by organizations, is not only unconstitutional but also represents a real danger to those most in need during economic crises. Access to inexpensive birth control is not an issue in America. A government overreaching its constitutional authority is. There is a lot of enthusiasm in Ohio to defend our rights, and I hope this enthusiasm is seen on Election Day.