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Catholic Institutions Sue Obama Administration Over HHS "ObamaCare" Mandate

by Peter Barbour, published

Politics. The things that politicians will say, and the political calculations that are made by politicians to get elected or re-elected. No party corners the market on virtue, no matter the rhetoric. For words do not matter, actions do. A recent action comes from the administration of President Obama.

More specifically in this case the Obama administration mandate from Health and Human Services (HHS) requiring health insurance plans to include coverage for abortifacient drugs, contraception, and sterilization. On the surface this may seem reasonable, after all what is wrong with insuring access to such coverage with a mandate?

Obama believes the mandate will help to avoid "government meddling" in health care and says this is a women's health issue. And he has also accused the GOP of being hypocritical to their claims of anti-regulation. "This contraception fight in particular was illuminating," Obama told a group of women at a campaign fundraiser on 4/27/12. "This is a [Republican] party that says it prides itself on being rabidly anti-regulation. These are folks who claim to believe in freedom from government interference and meddling. But it doesn’t seem to bother them when it comes to women’s health." It is clear that the president and his supporters believe this issue is primarily about women's health, and that the GOP wants to deny women access to contraception.

Opponents to the HHS mandate view it quite differently. They point out that the issue is not about denying women access to contraception, imposing their beliefs on others, or denying the government from providing such services. Opponents say the issue is about protection of the Bill of Rights, more specifically the 1st Amendment and religious liberty. They point out the mandate contains no exemption for religious charities, universities, and other institutions that provide for the needs of others. The mandate forces religious organizations to either violate their principles or drop coverage all together.

Notre Dame University President Father John Jenkins recently wrote in an e-mail "This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives.  For if we concede that the Government can decide which religious organizations are sufficiently religious to be awarded the freedom to follow the principles that define their mission, then we have begun to walk down a path that ultimately leads to the undermining of those institutions."

Given the choice of following or violating their principles, religious institutions are starting to drop health care coverage. Franciscan University, a Catholic school in Steubenville, Ohio with over 2,000 undergraduates, recently announced that it will no longer offer a health insurance plan to its students. Ave Maria University also announced that it will no longer offer students health insurance.

Unless the mandate is eliminated, it is inevitable that more institutions will follow the actions of these two universities. But if the Obama administration thought that these institutions would simply drop coverage without a fight, they were mistaken. Notre Dame and many other Roman Catholic dioceses, schools and institutions are joined together and suing the Obama Administration over the HHS mandate.

If you read one of my earlier columns on executive orders, you know that I oppose giving power to one man to create law. We need checks and balances to prevent any administration (Democrat or Republican) from bypassing Congress and imposing new law, in this case the HHS mandate. Where will it go from here? Time will tell.

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