Avoiding a Shutdown of Life and Liberty

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Last week, in a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, Ralph Reed “strongly” urged inclusion of “language that protects religious freedom and ends federal subsidies for abortion under Obamacare as part of any Continuing Resolution or increase in the borrowing authority of the federal government.” In an interview with National Review Online, Reed, president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, talks about why this isn’t, as some have claimed, an insertion of abortion politics into an already contentious debate, but an effort to protect conscience against unconstitutional threats this White House has made.

KJL: Why would you ever want to further complicate the ongoing shutdown and debt-ceiling mess with abortion? 

Ralph REED:  Because the First Amendment is non-negotiable. The Constitution would never have been ratified without its protections against abuse of government power. Forcing people of faith to violate their consciences and contradict their own religious teachings with their hard-earned dollars is contrary to a republican form of government that respects minority rights. Thomas Jefferson said, “To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” That’s what Obamacare does with its mandates on religious charities and its subsidies of abortion.  

KJL: What are you asking for exactly on that front? 

REED: We want a conscience clause that explicitly exempts religious charities and faith-based employers from being required to provide health-care services that violate their conscience and their faith, the same exemption granted to churches and other houses of worship. One of the ironies of this dispute is there is one way for a charity to be exempt from Obamacare’s mandates: It must serve only members of its own religious tradition. So if a Catholic hospital only allows Catholics in its emergency room for trauma care, it is exempt. But if it admits Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and those of no faith at all, it is slapped with mandates that violate its religious beliefs. This is a disincentive for the armies of compassion to care for every hurting person and all those who have been left behind.

Second, we want an explicit ban on any all subsidies, direct or indirect, for the performance of abortions under Obamacare. Between the expansion of Medicaid in states like California and New York that pay for elective abortions, and the abortion subsidies contained in policies offered on the exchanges, it has been estimated that Obamacare will lead to between 71,000 and 115,000 additional abortions in the United States annually. While the American people remain evenly divided on the abortion issue, they are clearly opposed to taxpayer subsidies for taking of innocent human life. Since the adoption of the Hyde Amendment in 1978, federal policy has prevented taxpayers from being compelled to subsidize abortion. All we are asking is for Congress to reaffirm that policy.

KJL: Chris Smith and Dan Lipinski just introduced an abortion transparency effort, inspired by the mess of the Obamacare exchanges, the Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act. Is that important? 

REED: Very much so. Under the existing system, consumers will not know which policies include abortion services and do not, and therefore which policies involve government-mandated surcharges on taxpayers to subsidize abortion. Transparency is critical to protect those of faith from being asked to participate in the taking of unborn life.

KJL: Will there ever be transparency on abortion, on any front? 

REED: We’re making progress. If you look at the great work done by Lila Rose exposing the abuses at Planned Parenthood clinics, the current congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood, and the recent settlement in Texas in which Planned Parenthood was fined millions of dollars for alleged incidents of Medicaid fraud, there is more transparency in the past. We need more.

KJL: Is it realistic to think the White House will give anything on religious freedom or abortion? John Boehner and House Republicans only have so much power in Washington. 

Reed: It will be difficult, but it is possible. No one thought Bill Clinton would agree to a budget that balanced in five years during the 1995 government shutdown. He did so. No one thought Bill Clinton would sign welfare reform. Remember, he vetoed it twice. But he ultimately signed it after Republicans made some minor changes. Religious freedom is moral high ground on which Republicans can fight and win. This is not ultimately a controversial issue. Obama has already conceded that houses of worship should be exempt. Since he has already conceded the premise — faith-based organizations should not be forced to subsidize that with which they strenuously disagree — we can win the argument about hospitals, colleges, seminaries, and inner-city ministries. 

KJL: Why do so many Republican men seem to care so much about abortion and contraception coverage? 

REED: I can’t speak for other men, but I care about it because I was born six weeks premature at a time when that was extremely young to be born. I almost didn’t make it and spent the first weeks of my life fighting to live in an incubator. For me this issue is personal, not political. Anyone who has ever visited a neonatal-care unit knows how hard it is to take casually the ending of a life in the womb when children just a few weeks older are fighting for their lives with nurses and doctors working around the clock to save them.

As a Protestant, I don’t have any theological objection to contraception, per se. But this isn’t about contraception. It’s about whether or not the government should be allowed to force someone of a particular faith tradition to promote and subsidize under penalty of fines and penalties something they consider to be offensive. It’s ultimately about the First Amendment. Besides, of all the health-care services the Obama administration claims it seeks to provide, contraception is probably the most affordable and universally available. I don’t want to deny women access to contraception. But we have a competing claim, namely the right of those of faith not to subsidize it. So given those competing claims, the best policy is to resolve it without violating the First Amendment. 

KJL: What are your other hopes for the shutdown negotiations?

REED: Defunding or delaying as much of Obamacare as possible, and an agreement on spending cuts that will dramatically lower the deficit, spur private-sector growth, and get us back on the path to fiscal responsibility.