Thursday, March 8, 2012

The contraception mandate and freedom of choice

Contraception has been big news lately. The controversy between the Catholic Church and President Obama over whether the church’s charities should be required to provide employees with birth control and abortifacient drugs has become the front line in the war between religious and sexual freedoms. At its core however, the matter is really about the freedom of choice, but probably not the way you think.

These days, freedom of choice is usually a euphemism for abortion. The Orwellian doublespeak is used because fewer people would rally to support “a woman’s right to kill her unborn baby” than “a woman’s right to choose.” Almost always left unsaid is what it is a woman’s right to choose. Ostensibly, the choice is between abortion and giving birth, but in reality Democrats and liberals focus almost exclusively on the right to kill, opposing almost all restrictions on abortion including parental notification laws, waiting periods, mandatory counseling, and even a ban on gruesome partial birth abortions.

In reality, freedom of choice extends to many issues besides abortion. In the contraception debate, the Catholic Church is attempting to exercise its freedom of choice to not buy a product that they do not want. Historically, churches and religious organizations have often been given exemptions from laws that conflict with their religious beliefs. These exemptions have included tax exemptions, exemptions from vaccination laws, and exemptions from compulsory schooling and military service. In recent years, religious exemptions have been granted in several different areas including homosexual marriage laws and not requiring doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to participate in abortions. Essentially, religious groups and their adherents were given a freedom of choice to opt out of laws that violated their religious beliefs or conscience.

All that ended with Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act requires that all health insurance policies must include “preventive services” to insureds at no out-of-pocket cost according to the United States Justice Foundation. The Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule that included birth control and abortion-inducing drugs in these preventive services. The HHS rule exempted churches, but not other religious organizations. An article by Bishop David Zubik noted that the exemption was so narrowly written that it would not even fit Jesus Christ and his Apostles.

Democratic claims that the Republicans are trying to ban birth control are an obvious lie to anyone who looks closely at the ACA and the exemption requests of the Catholic Church. No one, not even Rick Santorum, has proposed a ban or limitation of birth control for people or groups who want it. Even Catholic employees can buy birth control if they want it, it just wouldn’t be covered under their health insurance and they would have the pay out-of-pocket. The cost would be about $15 per month according to Planned Parenthood.

In reality, the Republicans are acting to protect the freedom of religious groups to choose not to purchase birth control. President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius of the HHS originally planned to force religious groups to purchase the coverage whether they wanted it or not. Under the president’s compromise, the religious groups don’t have to pay for the coverage but they are still not given the freedom not to accept it all. The debate is whether the federal government has the right to force groups to purchase and accept coverage that they don’t want and believe to be immoral.

In one sense, the contraception debate is a microcosm of the debate over the ACA’s individual mandate. Nothing in the Constitution, including the commerce clause, gives the federal government the right to force Americans to engage in commerce. The Constitution explicitly lists the powers of the federal government and any power not delegated to the federal government by the states is reserved to the states, even if it is not specifically mentioned.

The religious nature of the contraception controversy also means that the mandate is in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Wall St. Journal notes that the act, passed in 1993 with only three nays and signed into law by President Clinton, requires that any “substantial burden” on the exercise of religion be “in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and be the “least restrictive means” of furthering that interest. The contraception mandate does not meet these tests.

The issue at hand is not whether a majority of Americans approve of birth control. The issue at hand is whether Americans will allow the federal government to force a religious group to violate its beliefs in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The issue is not whether birth control and abortion-inducing drugs will be banned, but who will pay for them. When Sandra Fluke testified before congress, it wasn’t because contraceptives were not available. She testified because she didn’t want to pay for contraceptives. Fluke wanted congress to force Georgetown University, a private Catholic college, to pay for her birth control even though the school finds it morally objectionable. This has been lost in the brouhaha over Rush Limbaugh’s ill-advised comment.

Increasingly, freedom to Democrats does not mean the right to do something; it means not having to pay for whatever you want to do. Unfortunately, since there are no free lunches, freedom from a financial burden for one means an increased financial burden and diminished freedom for someone else. Requiring someone to pay for someone else’s consumption of an item necessarily limits freedom because the government must dictate that the wealth transfer take place and compel or force the “donor” to part with their cash.

The Democrats would allow these moochers to dictate American economic policy and believe that recipients of entitlements have a right to those payments. In reality, no one has a right to the fruits of another’s labor. That is true regardless of whether the entitlement is laundered through a government bureaucracy or an employer. Today the entitlement mentality has expanded beyond basic needs like food and shelter to mobile phones, too-big-to-fail businesses, and health insurance and now to contraception and abortion.

In the case of President Obama’s contraception compromise, Catholic charities are being forced to accept contraceptive coverage that they don’t want, but they won’t have to pay for it. President Obama says that the insurance companies will bear the cost, but that isn’t true either. In the real world, the insurance companies will pass the cost along to their other policy holders. So health insurance premiums for everyone else because the president insisted on forcing religious groups to get a coverage that they never wanted in the first place.

Republicans are attempting to protect the right of the minority, the freedom to say no. On the other hand, the Democrats are trying to use government coercion expand an entitlement, the right to free stuff (that isn’t really free) whether the people want it or not.

Originally published on

No comments: