The Point Washington Update - March 27, 2014
In this edition of The Point:
- CMA religious freedom commentary on Fox News
- Supreme Court hears religious freedom, contraceptives cases
- Quebec election may speed euthanasia legalization; doctors protest
(Excerpted from "Families fighting Obamacare's assertion of 'pill-level power,'" published by Fox News, March 25, 2014)
By Jonathan Imbody, CMA VP for Govt. Relations
The mandate under Obamacare that prescribes the provision of 20 specific contraceptives exposes the audacity of pill-level government decision-making. While many Americans, including those with religious convictions, approve of and use certain contraceptives, the government-mandated, no-exceptions list includes four especially controversial items (Plan B, ella and two intrauterine devices--IUDs) that the FDA notes can end the life of a developing human being.
Why would the government intervene to force the provision of free contraceptives for every woman from the Hamptons to Beverly Hills? Everyone who has easily bought and used contraceptives at the neighborhood drug store can readily see that the administration has no compelling interest to do so beyond raw politics and ideology.
President Obama unwittingly confirmed the lack of a compelling need for government intervention when he asserted in a White House address, "Nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives--99 percent." Why would the federal government intervene to mandate the provision of what even the President admits is a ubiquitous product? The existing ready access to contraceptives, combined with literally millions of exemptions handed out by the administration to virtually everyone but religious objectors, effectively rules out any government claim to a compelling reason for the mandate.
The Supreme Court in a few days will examine whether the administration violated federal law that requires a "compelling" government justification for trampling Americans' conscience freedoms. The Court will hear two cases of family-owned businesses whose only crime appears to be not sharing the administration's ideology. Two families that own and operate companies--the Conestoga Wood Specialties and the Hobby Lobby--maintain a science- and faith-based objection to providing just the four of the mandated contraceptives that can end a human life.
As a result, these two family-owned businesses face government fines totaling millions of dollars as the cost of exercising what they thought were every American's unalienable First Amendment freedoms. They could also, of course, simply drop their employees' healthcare insurance altogether. But that option likewise incurs draconian Obamacare fines, and the families want to continue providing excellent health coverage to employees as they were able to before Obamacare.
These families now fight in court for the freedoms that other Americans have fought for on the battlefield.
Excerpted from "Supreme Court divided as it hears argument on contraceptive coverage," Washington Post, March 26, 2014 - A divided Supreme Court seemed sympathetic Tuesday to the views of business owners who say their religious objections protect them from a requirement in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act that health insurance plans cover all types of contraceptives. The conservative wing of the court seemed to agree that the challengers in the two cases — closely held corporations owned by families whose religious beliefs the government does not question — could be covered by a federal law that provides great protection for the exercise of religion.
So for the contraceptive requirement to apply to the companies, the government would have to show that it has a compelling interest in enforcing the requirement, that this does not impose a substantial burden on religious exercise, and that there is no less-intrusive way to provide coverage to female workers.
Justice Anthony Kennedy may have signaled a deeper concern when he raised the worry that the government’s reasoning would mean there was little that employers could object to funding. Kennedy told Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. that under Verrilli’s view, a corporation “could be forced in principle to pay for abortions.” The court will render a decision in the cases — Hobby Lobby Stores vs. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius — during its current term, which ends in late June.
CMA VP for Government Relations Jonathan Imbody – “These cases hold profound significance for our free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and as advanced in a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The Christian Medical Association filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, available here.
“The cases hinge on several key principles:
- Americans do not sacrifice their First Amendment freedom to exercise religious convictions once they launch a business (including a medical or dental practice). Consider, for example, that the New York Times corporation does not lose its First Amendment free speech rights simply as a result of incorporation; nor do incorporated churches lose their free exercise rights.
- The government may only abridge the free exercise of religion when it can prove a ‘compelling interest.’ The fact that the administration has exempted millions of secular employers (though refusing to exempt many religious employers) undermines any government claim that the mandate is compelling. The lack of studies showing that pills such as ella and Plan B actually reduce unplanned pregnancies also undermines a claim of compelling interest.
- Even when the government can prove a compelling interest to transgress religious liberty, it may only do so by the ‘least restrictive’ means available The least restrictive means of providing contraceptives would be for the government to directly provide them to women who cannot afford them, as it does around the world--not to force conscientious objectors to participate in the distribution.
“Many of my attorney colleagues who attended Tuesday's oral arguments at the Supreme Court felt guardedly encouraged. I attended a briefing at the U.S. Capitol in which similar optimism was voiced, based on the justices' line of questioning.
“If we win this decision, Christians gain a measure of protection against the increasing assaults on our religious freedom. If we lose, we can expect more fines, discrimination, job losses and even jailing as a result of growing animus toward the faith community and the increasingly counter-cultural values for which we stand. Even with a court victory, we still face the huge and more important task of winning an audience with our colleagues and our culture, to present the principles and claims of the kingdom and our King.”
Excerpted from "Doctors don't want euthanasia bill revived post-election," CTV Montreal, March 17, 2014) - The provincial election has put the provincial government's euthanasia bill on the back burner, but a group of doctors wants to remind the public about what it believes are the risks of Bill 52.
Doctors for Social Justice was joined by former state of New Hampshire representative Nancy Elliott to speak about why legislators in her state recently rejected its own assisted suicide bill. Dr. Paul Saba, head of Doctors of Social Justice, said if the government were to pass the bill physicians would leave Quebec.
"Some doctors will say no, we cannot be accomplices to this; we will not practice under those conditions," said Dr. Saba. Last year, the World Medical Association adopted a motion saying physician-assisted suicide is unethical and must be condemned by the medical profession.
CMDA President Richard E. Johnson, MD – “I have spoken with Dr. Saba, and Larry Worthen, the executive director of CMDS Canada. Both are very concerned about the upcoming election in Quebec. If legislators with a pro-physician-assisted suicide leaning are elected, they fear that it will be very difficult to prevent Bill 52 (legalizing physician-assisted suicide) from passing. The language of this bill is quite broad and will make it very difficult for physicians who oppose it to maintain their freedom of conscience.”