Religious institutions should not be forced to cover contraceptives in health plans for three reasons: 1) there is not a need for increased access to contraception, 2) drugs and devices that cause abortion are included in the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives, and 3) the contraceptive mandate is a profound violation of religious freedom.
As has been largely reported, effective August 2012, all health plans will be required to cover contraceptives with no co-pay. Last month, despite receiving over 200,000 comments in protest, the Obama administration reiterated its mandate decision, causing a firestorm among conservative and liberal religious groups, as well as many left-leaning organizations and individuals who have decried the decision.
Advocates for the contraceptive mandate claim that there is a need for women to have an increased access to contraception. However it is not widely publicized that the U.S. government is already providing roughly $2 billion for domestic family planning. Most health plans cover such services, so this mandate is aimed at only marginally increasing the vast access to contraception that already exists, primarily by forcing those who oppose such coverage to carry it.
Additionally, the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives includes drugs and devices (such as IUDs and Plan B) that have mechanisms of action that may prevent a newly developed baby from attaching to its mother's uterus. It also includes "Ella," the newest FDA-approved morning-after pill, which works in the exact same way as the one legal abortion drug, RU-486. Studies of Ella on animals reveal that it can cause the demise of a baby before and after implantation.
Most critically, however, the contraceptive mandate is an affront to religious freedom. Our Founding Fathers came to America in large part to be able to practice their religious beliefs free from government interference. Religious liberties and the ability to follow one's conscience have always been protected rights in the U.S. until now.
A very narrow group of religious employers—essentially places of worship—will be exempt from this mandate. But the vast majority of faith-based organizations do not meet the stringent criteria (originally crafted by the ACLU), including employing only people belonging to their religions and having as a primary purpose inculcation of religious tenets. Schools, homeless shelters, hospitals, and other such faith-based organizations are not included in the definition. It has been said that even Jesus would not have been religious enough to qualify for this exemption.
In the less than two weeks since the Obama administration issued its statement reiterating the mandate, 169 Catholic bishops have decried the decision and said they will not comply. But not only Catholics are concerned. More than 60 Evangelical and Jewish leaders have signed a letter to President Obama expressing grave concern. Signatories include leaders in the nation's largest Protestant communities, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Southern Baptist Convention. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America also called the administration ruling "deeply disappointing."
In the end, the worst thing about the contraceptive mandate has nothing to do with contraception. For the first time in our country's history, we have a president who has decided that when he disagrees with certain religious or moral practices, he can force people to act against their consciences. The crux of this issue is about the freedom for Americans to be able to live and follow their deeply held moral and religious beliefs, a long-standing American tradition seen in various conscience laws related to healthcare.
About Jeanne Monahan Director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council
Hannah Smith Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
Nancy Keenan President of NARAL Pro-Choice America