WASHINGTON (BP) — Roman Catholics are not alone in opposing new guidelines requiring health insurance plans to cover contraceptives and the narrow religious exemption that goes with them, Richard Land and others have told President Obama.
Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined 60 others — almost entirely evangelical Christians, plus two Jewish leaders — in a letter to affirm they are deeply concerned about the “contraceptive mandate,” as it has become known, and its weak exemption for religious employers. Land also had submitted public comments in September to protest the guidelines.
The contraceptives covered under the guidelines include drugs that can cause abortions.
The guidelines, announced Aug. 1 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), require health plans and insurers to provide no-cost coverage of birth control methods under the 2010 health care reform law.
Under the guidelines, all methods approved as contraceptives by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be included in a range of services offered to patients free of charge. Those FDA-endorsed methods include the emergency contraceptive Plan B, the intrauterine device (IUD) and “ella.” All have the ability to induce abortions.
The letter endorsed by Land and the others sought to assure Obama they are in solidarity with Roman Catholics who have protested the HHS rules. While the news media has depicted only Catholic opposition, they wrote “to stress that religious organizations and leaders of other faiths are also deeply troubled by and opposed to the mandate and the narrow exemption,” they said in the Dec. 21 letter.
The signers acknowledged they “do not all share the same convictions about the moral acceptability of the mandated services” but said they are united in their concern about the limitations of the religious exemption.
As now proposed, the exemption “protects only seminaries and a few churches, but not churches with a social outreach and other faith-based organizations that serve the poor and needy broadly providing help that goes beyond worship and prayer,” the letter said. The signers said a religious organization is not restricted to one that confines “its help to prayer and religious teaching.” Foes of the exemption have said it will not protect the rights of such faith-based organizations as schools, hospitals and social service programs.
The signers also told the president they oppose a revision of the exemption they understand has been proposed. “[W]e strongly object to a revised exemption that is only broadened enough to include faith-based organizations that are affiliated with a specific denomination,” they wrote. Numerous religious organizations are not related to any denomination or house of worship, they said.
“We believe that the Federal government is obligated by the First Amendment to accommodate the religious convictions of faith-based organizations of all kinds, Catholic and non-Catholic,” the letter said. “We respectfully ask that your administration, should it maintain the current contraceptives mandate, devise an exemption for religious employers that accurately defines such employers and exempts them from being required to offer to their employees (and students, if they are among America’s many religious colleges and universities) health services to which they have deep religious objections.”
The services outlined in the guidelines will be required in insurance policies that begin their plan years Aug. 1 of this year or thereafter, according to HHS. If the interim rule on the religious exemption is altered, it will become effective at the same time.
In addition to Land, other signers of the letter included Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Colby May, senior counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice; Tom Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family; Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance; Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Abba Cohen, vice president for federal affairs of Agudath Israel of America; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; and Paul Corts, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
Also signing were the heads of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, Christian Community Development Association, Christian Legal Society and Prison Fellowship Ministries. The presidents of four schools affiliated with Baptist state conventions — David Olive of Bluefield College, William Fleming of Palm Beach Atlantic University, Samuel Oliver of East Texas Baptist University and Lee Royce of Mississippi College – signed the letter as well.
Regarding the abortion-causing drugs covered under the contraceptive mandate, “emergency contraception,” also known as the “morning-after” pill, is basically a heavy dose of birth control pills. While the normally two-step process can restrict ovulation in a woman or prevent fertilization, it also can block implantation of the early embryo in the uterine wall. The latter effect would cause an abortion, pro-life advocates point out. An IUD also can prevent implantation.
“Ella,” though approved as “emergency contraception” by the FDA in 2010 and labeled a “morning-after” pill by supporters, is more closely related to the abortion drug RU 486, according to pro-life organizations. Like RU 486, it blocks production of the hormone progesterone, destroying the placenta that provides nutrition to the embryo and causing the tiny, unborn child’s death, the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists says. “Ella” also can block implantation.
During a public comment period provided by HHS, Land protested in a Sept. 30 submission the use of taxpayer funds in support of abortion drugs and the violations of religious liberty and freedom of conscience in the guidelines.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.