Obamacare has been on a collision course with Americans’ individual liberty and religious freedom from the beginning. Last week’s Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case prevented Obamacare’s Department of Health and Human Services mandate from careening into the religious freedom of family business owners, on the basis of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
Now some liberals would like that religious freedom protection out of the way of Obamacare’s health care dictates.
Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash. and Mark Udall, D-Colo., introduced legislation yesterday that would essentially exempt all federal health care mandates from the protections afforded by the RFRA.
The bill would force families like the Greens of Hobby Lobby and the Hahns of Conestoga Wood Specialties who run businesses and other American employers to provide coverage of abortion-inducing drugs and devices, contraception and sterilization — regardless of religious objection. It would also prohibit employers from seeking relief from any federal health care mandate — no matter how coercive the rule or controversial the procedure.
The bill could also affect the freedom of non-profit employers like religious schools and charities.
Murray’s proposal would specifically prohibit employers from seeking relief from the HHS mandate under the federal RFRA – a law the senator voted for in 1993.
Passed by unanimous voice vote in the House and 97-3 in the Senate, the religious freedom law prohibits substantial burdens on religious exercise unless the government can show a compelling interest in burdening religious liberty and does so through the least restrictive way possible. Congress included religious organizations and businesses in the law’s protections and its delicate balancing test has served the country well for more than 20 years.
RFRA has not, like Murray and others claim, offered a blank check for religious believers to do whatever they want in the name of religion. Neither did the Court’s decision last week.
Nor did the Supreme Court’s decision strike down the HHS mandate, as Murray and others claim. Non-grandfathered health plans must still include coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and devices and sterilization. And all women remain free to make decisions about those drugs and devices for themselves. A handful of family businesses like the Greens’ Hobby Lobby and the Hahns’ Conestoga Wood Specialties simply want the freedom not to participate in those decisions in violation of their deeply held beliefs.
Murray, Planned Parenthood and others would like to “get bosses out of the bedroom,” and these bosses – it turns out – would very much like to oblige, if only government bureaucrats weren’t blocking the doorway.
As the Supreme Court noted in its opinion last week, there were plenty of other ways for the government to provide no-cost contraception directly to women who wanted it – without hijacking employers’ health plans and trampling on religious freedom. Murray’s approach, however, takes none of those alternate routes, but would only accelerate the government’s running roughshod over fundamental freedoms.
Ironically, Murray hopes her efforts will “return the right of Americans to make their own decisions, about their own health care.” But that won’t happen while Obamacare is law of the land, since it gave government bureaucrats the authority to decide the details of insurance plans, dictating what employers must offer and individuals must purchase.
Employees, individuals and all Americans should be able to choose health care that best fits the needs of their families and respects their freedom. And employers should be able to build businesses in accordance with their values without threat of penalties.
Americans deserve a health-care system that increases access, helps keep costs down and allows individuals and families to provide and choose health care coverage that respects their values. They shouldn’t have their healthcare dictated by unelected bureaucrats or their fundamental right to religious freedom disregarded.
Sarah Torre is the policy analyst in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation. She focuses on policy issues related to religious liberty, marriage and family. This piece was published previously in The Daily Signal.