The contraceptive mandate

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MIAMI - The contraceptive mandate imposed on health plans by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) violates freedom of conscience, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment and several federal laws. To force all of us to buy coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that induce abortion, is a radical incursion into freedom of conscience.

HHS created this mandate after Congress asked it to develop a list of services all health plans should provide without co-pay. Had such a mandate concerned itself with the prevention of diseases like breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases and gestational diabetes, it would be unobjectionable.  However, pregnancy is not a disease; nor is fertility pathology. Yet, HHS took it upon itself to include sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs without providing a real conscience exemption.

Even states with similar mandates have a broader conscience exemption, or at least allow employers to self-insure or to choose a plan without prescription drug coverage if they have a conscientious objection to underwriting abortion, contraceptive and sterilization. This mandate forces virtually all insurance plans to offer such services.

Everyone deserves access to basic life-affirming health care, and health care reform is supposed to serve that goal.  The effect of this mandate is just the opposite, as it pressures organizations to drop their health coverage for employees and others altogether if they have a moral or religious objection to these particular items.

In an important decision upholding religious freedom, the Supreme Court recently ruled unanimously in Hosanna-Tabor against the Obama Administration's attempt to limit "ministerial exemption" which protects religious institutions from the government interfering on whom they hire.  In spite of this, the Administration shows itself tone deaf not only to the reasoned deliberations of the Court's justices but also to the thousands of citizens who submitted comments prior to the issuance of this mandate.

Never before in U.S. history has the federal government forced citizens to directly purchase what violates their beliefs. If the Administration will not rescind this violation of the First Amendment, Congress must do so.  As Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1809 "No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.

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