WASHINGTON (BP) — When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s health care law, it left untouched sections of the law that have concerned members of the pro-life and religious liberty communities for months.
Although those sections often have been overshadowed by debates over the individual mandate, pro-life and religious liberty groups were raising their concerns even before the law passed Congress in 2010.
Following are questions, and answers, about their concerns:
— Why do pro-life and religious liberty groups oppose the law?
They have several concerns, although two have led the way. First, the health care law subsidizes, through federal tax dollars, insurance plans that cover abortion. Second, the law forces all insurance plans — with only a few exceptions — to cover contraceptives, including “emergency contraceptives” that can act after fertilization and cause chemical abortions. It’s been dubbed the “contraceptive mandate,” even though it impacts far more than basic contraceptives.
— Don’t supporters of the law say federal dollars won’t fund abortion?
Yes. The controversy is not over direct funding but over the subsidization of insurance plans that cover abortion, which is a deviation from previous policy. Congress’ own insurance plans, for instance, cannot cover abortion. Pro-life groups argue that, under the new law, Americans who previously did not have insurance coverage for abortion will now have it, thus putting the lives of more unborn babies at risk — and with taxpayers subsidizing it all. In summary: Women who previously could not afford an abortion now might be able to afford one.
— What are the religious exemptions for the contraceptive mandate?
They are narrow. Under the rules set forth by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), churches are exempt from being required to cover contraceptives, including abortion-causing drugs, within their insurance plans. Other religious organizations, though, are not. That means that insurance plans offered by Christian schools and universities, faith-based hospitals, Christian relief and social service organizations, etc., must cover abortion-causing drugs, even though many of the organizations are morally opposed to such drugs. GuideStone Financial Resources and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention are just two of the many organizations saying the law violates religious liberty. To make matters worse: HHS rules require that contraceptives are to be offered at no cost — in essence, free.
— Didn’t President Obama announce a compromise that broadened the religious exemption to the contraceptive mandate?
He did announce a compromise, although it did not ease the concerns of religious organizations. Under his compromise, insurance companies would be required to pay for and offer emergency contraceptives to the employees of a religious organization. Religious organizations called the compromise an “accounting gimmick” and said it doesn’t change the fact that they would be paying for an insurance plan that covers a procedure — chemical abortions — to which they are opposed. Pro-lifers also say the law violates the religious liberty of pro-life business owners who are not part of a religious organization but who, nevertheless, oppose paying for such a plan.
— What happens now?
Pro-life and religious liberty groups once again look to the courts. Even before the Supreme Court’s ruling, about two dozen lawsuits had been filed in 15 states, seeking to overturn the abortion/contraceptive mandate. (The Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the entire health care law dealt with several critical aspects of the law but did not deal directly with the constitutionality of the abortion/contraceptive mandate.) Legal groups have filed the suits in different districts and circuits, hoping to increase their chances of it eventually getting a Supreme Court hearing. Typically, if appeals courts rule differently on a significant matter, the nation’s highest court is more likely to take the case.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).