Freedom of conscience was dealt a catastrophic blow by the Obama administration this week when the Department of Health and Human Services announced that preventive services, which the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires health plans to cover without cost-sharing, must include all forms of contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration - even those that cause abortion by preventing embryos from attaching to the uterine wall (“Insurance must cover contraception,” Politics, Tuesday).
The decision provides no exemption for individuals who consider such services immoral. Thus, Americans will have little choice but to participate in health plans that offer such services and to subsidize the provision through the premiums they are required to pay.
The president promised to protect freedom of conscience in health care reform. But under HHS’ decision, Americans no longer will be free under federal law to follow their consciences in deciding what health care coverage to purchase.
Legislation is pending before Congress that would restore freedom of conscience to health care reform.
Regrettably, even if enacted, it is certain not to survive the president’s veto.
Americans are a religious people who respect the conscientious scruples of their fellow citizens. From Colonial times, those who believed the Bible forbade them from taking oaths were permitted to affirm instead, a practice the Constitution itself confirms. Even during war, Congress has exempted those with conscientious objections from conscription into military service.
Of particular relevance is the fact that federal employees are not required to subsidize contraceptive services; they can choose to participate in plans exempted on religious grounds from the contraceptive mandate of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
Although the president may have no scruples about pressuring people to violate their consciences, I have faith that Americans will vote to restore our long tradition of religious freedom when they visit the polls next fall.
STEPHEN L. MIKOCHIK
Temple Law School