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On August 1st 2011, as part of the Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued its rule stating that the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives are mandatory preventative services for women in all health plans. This rule included a narrow religious exemption; however, the vast majority of faith-based organizations do not meet the criteria for this exemption. Catholic hospitals, schools, universities, and charitable organizations, for example, do not qualify. Neither do individuals.

Religious institutions were given a year delay in their implementation of the mandate. “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

Opposition was swift and united. So on February 10, 2012, HHS allowed for an “accommodation”: insurances, not religious institutions that are required to purchase the insurance, would pay for the contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs included in the “full range of FDA-approved contraception.” In the end, however, no corresponding written changes were made to the law.

On March 2, 2012, Cardinal Dolan wrote: “We have made it clear in no uncertain terms to the government that we are not at peace with its invasive attempt to curtail the religious freedom we cherish as Catholics and Americans. We did not ask for this fight, but we will not run from it.”

Conscience and Religious Liberty:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution

In 1993, upon the constitutional foundation of the First Amendment, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which holds that the government must prove that it has a compelling interest in order to impose a substantial burden on a person’s free exercise of religion.

Is forcing religious institutions and religious individuals to purchase that which is morally objectionable to them a substantial burden? Without a doubt, yes it is. As Rabbi Sloveichik testified before Congress: “By carving out an exemption, however narrow, the administration implicitly acknowledges that forcing employers to purchase these insurance policies may involve a violation of religious freedom.”

Does the Administration have a compelling government interest to impinge on the First Amendment liberties of religious people? Bishop William Lori stated that “if the government felt they had a ‘compelling interest’ to burden religious liberty, it would not have provided for any kind of religious exemption.” Certainly, removing all charge from a product that is already accessible and affordable in this country cannot be considered a compelling government interest.

We have become certain of two things: religious freedom is under attack, and we will not cease our struggle to protect it.
Cardinal Dolan

Abortion-inducing Drugs in the HHS Mandate:

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.
CCC 2270

Abortion-inducing drugs are included in the HHS mandate. These drugs destroy existing human life.

Emergency contraceptive Levonorgestral, better known as Plan B or the Morning-After Pill, “possesses a number of mechanisms of action which can prevent a newly formed embryo from implanting in the uterine wall…. Plan B’s labeling information…admits this scientific reality. ‘Plan B may inhibit implantation (by altering the endometrium).’”

Also included in the mandatory category of preventative services for women is ulipristal acetate, or Ella. Ella is functionally similar to the FDA-approved abortifacient, RU-486. Ella has the ability to destroy an already implanted embryo, thus causing an abortion.

If the government can mandate that its citizens must purchase abortion-inducing drugs, what keeps it from being able to mandate that citizens must pay for elective, surgical abortions?

The Debate is Not About Contraception; It Is About Religious Freedom:

“It is a freedom of religion battle. It is not about contraception. It is not about women’s health….We’re talking about an unwarranted, unprecedented, radical intrusion into a church’s ability to teach, serve and sanctify on its own.”
Cardinal Dolan

Proponents of the HHS mandate claim that the debate is over contraception and women’s healthcare. This is a false claim. Under the current system (without the mandate) contraception is universally available at affordable rates. Nine out of ten insurance providers cover FDA-approved contraceptives. In addition, more than 8,000 clinics offer contraceptives at little or no cost. And birth-control is widely available at retail stores.

The mandate is offensive to the Church and faithful citizens not because it gives women the ability to access contraception – that access already exists. The mandate is offensive because it forces religious institutions and individuals to pay for women’s contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.

“[I]t is absurd for someone to come into a kosher deli and demand a ham sandwich; … it is beyond absurd for that private demand to be backed with the coercive power of the state; [and] … it is downright surreal to apply this coercive power when the customer can get the same sandwich cheaply, or even free, just a few doors down.”
Bishop William Lori