Later today, the Senate is expected to vote on an amendment that would revoke the provision of President Obama’s mandate that forces religious and prolife institutions to violate their religious beliefs by providing insurance coverage for abortion drugs.
The Administration’s ongoing and repeated claims that opposition to the contraceptive mandate is playing politics is nothing short of ironic, not to mention disingenuous. Indeed, what the President and his administration pulled last Friday, and has been pulling since that day, is pure political gamesmanship.
Secretary Sebelius’ announcement on January 20 that HHS would make final a rule mandating that religious organizations pay for “preventive services,” such as abortion-causing drugs, contraception, and sterilization, provoked a nationwide outcry.
What was the President to do? Beholden to Planned Parenthood and NARAL, he couldn’t backtrack on his blind abortion ideology. As a politician in an election year, he couldn’t jeopardize the votes of Catholics and others outraged by the violation of their civil liberties.
Instead of rescinding the mandate that aroused the ire of so many from across the religious and political spectrum, the President tried to pull the oldest and most effective political stratagems available: divide and conquer. As Abraham Lincoln famously noted, borrowing the truth from Scripture, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
In his announcement last Friday, the President tried to divide the unified opposition by allegedly accommodating religious institutions and charities through a false funding scheme: the insurance company, not the religious entity, would pay for the objectionable services. Some of the President’s opposition were duped by this shell game; many were not so fooled.
Whether the President’s approach will pay off politically remains to be seen. In the meantime, Senator Roy Blunt and others are seeking to enact a genuine accommodation of religious and conscience rights. Senator Blunt’s amendment, which should be called up for a vote later today, provides that no health plan shall be required to provide coverage of services if “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan.” No shell games; no accounting gimmicks; no one left out in the cold. A total and comprehensive protection of moral and religious conscience for all. We hope that Senators such as Manchin, Nelson, Casey and others who have publicly stated their opposition to President Obama’s mandate will support Senator Blunt’s amendment.
Also, 50 Members of Congress will be holding a press conference later today to discuss Representative Fortenberry’s bill, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which would also protect the conscience rights of Americans.
The White House has responded that legislative action in support of conscience rights is “dangerous and wrong.”
Really, Mr. President?
As Harlan Fiske Stone, later Supreme Court Chief Justice, eloquently wrote almost one hundred years ago:
All our history gives confirmation to the view that liberty of conscience has a moral and social value which makes it worthy of preservation at the hands of the state. So deep in its significance and vital, indeed, is it to the integrity of man’s moral and spiritual nature that nothing short of the self-preservation of the state should warrant its violation; and it may well be questioned whether the state which preserves its life by a settled policy of violation of the conscience of the individual will not in fact ultimately lose it by the process.
Contrary to the White House’s assertions, what is “dangerous” is to place the government in the role as the arbiter of moral and religious conscience. What is “wrong” is to violate individual and communal conscience rights for the sake of a governmental imposed ideology.
The turmoil of recent events has not been without its benefits. First, we have seen leaders, groups, and citizens speak and stand up for their rights in a way not often seen in American politics. Second, when it comes to the preservation of religious civil liberties and freedom of conscience, we now know precisely and without doubt where this President stands.
UPDATE: After Senate Majority Leader Reid agreed yesterday to allow a vote on Senator Blunt's amendment today, Reid has gone back on his word. A vote on Senator Blunt's amendment to restore conscience rights to citizens is now expected sometime after next week's recess.