Politics & Policy

Women and Religious Liberty

The HHS mandate is a fundamental assault on our constitutional rights.

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.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: 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.

LOPEZ: Would the Blunt/Fortenberry bills affect contraception access in America?

MONAHAN: No. The Blunt and Fortenberry bills apply only to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) — they do not modify state and federal laws currently in place; they do not affect services covered by insurance plans at present. There has been much misinformation spread about these bills, but the reality is that the Blunt and Fortenberry bills would simply restore conscience protections that existed under the status quo prior to the passage of the PPACA. Interesting to note is that Hillarycare in the 1990s included a very similar conscience clause.


LOPEZ: You said in your testimony: “You may disagree with me, and think that I and the thousands of women like me are wrong. Fine, but do not discriminate against us and force us to violate our consciences. We urge you not to allow this president to discriminate against those with moral or religious objections to this mandate coverage of contraceptives, sterilization services, and abortifacients.” How are you so confident that there are thousands of women like you, and that all the others won’t suffer because of your theological proclivities?

MONAHAN: Over 20,000 women recently signed an open letter to the president and Congress stating their objection to the HHS mandate, as well as their deep dislike of being falsely represented by House Minority Leader Pelosi on this issue. The Family Research Council sent a similar letter to the president, signed by 2,700 clergy and other religiously affiliated men and women, arguing the same thing. Many of the signatories were women.

The very small percentage of women who desire to have access to contraception and do not have this covered by their religious employer have a wide variety of options available to them (which I detail more in a later question). Under Obamacare, I, and the thousands of women like me who  believe this should not be covered, do not have other options. We will be forced to violate our consciences on issues as critical as life and death.


LOPEZ: What would you say to your fellow single women of America, concerned about their access to birth control?

MONAHAN: Those in favor of the mandate are largely framing the issue as access to contraception for women in the United States. However, this is not a fair claim, given that the U.S. government, in fiscal year 2011, funded domestic family-planning programs in the largest amount ever: almost $2 billion. The Guttmacher Institute reports that nine out of ten health-insurance plans currently cover contraceptives. In the few cases where women want contraception but do not have it covered by an insurance plan, they are free to purchase it on their own (in D.C., the generic brand of the pill costs $9 a month) or to visit one of the many Title X government-funded family-planning clinics to receive government-subsidized or, frequently, free contraception. (Within five miles of my office are two such clinics). Women are also welcome to attend school at or work for a non-religious organization. The options are many and varied for women in this scenario. However, for a woman who has a religious objection to the mandate, no such choice is afforded. As a woman who opposes this mandate, I will be forced to pay into an insurance program that will cover drugs and devices that I am morally opposed to.


LOPEZ: Do you have hopes for this Supreme Court case over the president’s health-care plan coming up?

MONAHAN: I believe that the Supreme Court will judge that the PPACA is unconstitutional and that, in particular, the HHS mandate violates our First Amendment right to the free exercise of our religion.


LOPEZ: For the upcoming election, what would you hope all voters would consider?

MONAHAN: Voters concerned about preserving religious freedom might consider that the Obama administration is willing to make radical policy decisions such as the HHS mandate during an election year, a time when politicians normally make “safe” decisions so as to appeal to the widest range of voters. Given this, what can be expected should President Obama be reelected? In the area of religious liberty and public policy on abortion, I believe that another four years with this president would be very damaging to our country and the ideals upon which it was founded.



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