Feb

12

2013

Joe Carter|11:30 PM CT

Why Should Evangelicals Care About the Contraceptive-Abortifacient Mandate?

Currently, there are 42 lawsuits across the country that are challenging the Obama administration's contraceptive-abortifacient mandate as a violation of Christian conscience, making 2013 a particularly important year for religious liberty. For good or for ill, these cases will play an unusually important role in defining our national commitment to religious liberty

To better understand the implications of the mandate, TGC interviewed Daniel Blomberg, the legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Blomberg, the son of an ordained evangelical minister, earned a degree in Bible from Columbia International University before graduating magna cum laude from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Before joining Becket, he clerked for Chief Judge Alice M. Batchelder of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and, before that, served as litigation counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom.

What is the mission and purpose of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty?

The Becket Fund is a non-profit, public-interest institute that protects the free expression of all faiths. We exist to protect people as they exercise their right and duty to relate to God as their conscience leads. And we do so for all religions:  at the Becket Fund, we like to say that we've defended to religious rights of people from "A to Z," from Anglicans to Zoroastrians. We want to help realize a world where religious freedom is respected as a fundamental human right that all are entitled to enjoy and exercise.

Why should evangelicals care about the HHS Mandate?

On one level, simply because other evangelicals are being harmed by the HHS Mandate. Wheaton College, Colorado Christian University, and Hobby Lobby (which is owned by David Green, a devout evangelical)—among others—have gone to court so that they won't have to do what the Mandate says they must do:  provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs like ella and Plan B. As institutions, they share the evangelical commitment to cherishing the God-given worth of human beings from the earliest stages of their lives. But the Mandate coerces them to provide life-taking drugs, on pain of crushing fines—fines that would shut them down. Thus, evangelicals should care about the HHS Mandate because it coerces fellow evangelicals to violate their duty to obey God and protect human life.

On another level, evangelicals should care because of the unprecedented nature of the HHS Mandate's threat. Our nation's Founders made religious liberty our first political liberty because they recognized that it was the foundational political liberty. As recently as last January, in the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church case, members of the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that religious groups are the critical shields between the individual and the power of the State, between liberty and tyranny. If the State can broadly force individuals and private institutions to directly violate core religious beliefs, then liberty itself—not just religious liberty—is threatened. For that reason, evangelicals should support the conscience claims of, for instance, Catholic institutions who oppose the Mandate both on sanctity-of-life grounds and because of the Mandate's contraception-coverage requirement. Even though most evangelicals do not agree with Catholic doctrine on contraception, they can and should support the claims of Catholic individuals and institutions to freedom of conscience. Anything less signals a weak commitment to both religious liberty and personal liberty.

Does the Administration's new proposed change to the Mandate solve the religious liberty problem?

No. Just two weeks ago, the Administration issued a proposal that altered some aspects of the Mandate while leaving most of the problems unchanged. First of all, it's just a proposal and has no force of law, unlike the Mandate, which is law (albeit one created via bureaucratic regulation instead of congressional legislation). Further, it offers absolutely nothing to evangelical business owners like David Green, who is left with a choice between violating his faith or paying around $1 million dollars per day for the privilege of doing business without covering abortion drugs. That shows a stunning coldness to the religious liberty of family businesses, and it's all the more brazen given how poorly the Mandate is doing in federal court. There are more than a dozen lawsuits filed on behalf of family businesses, and over 70% of the decisions so far have supported the businesses.

Religious nonprofits such as Wheaton College and Colorado Christian University also have little to cheer about. Along with hundreds of thousands of other Americans, they asked the Administration for a complete exemption from the Mandate. Despite having over a year to come up with a solution, all that the Administration offered two weeks ago was an 80-page "accommodation" that creates a new insurance bureaucracy that appears both unworkable and, for many, unlikely to provide sufficient protection for conscience. The basic idea of the "accommodation" is that a religious nonprofit's insurer will automatically provide abortion-drug (and contraceptive) coverage instead of the religious nonprofit having to do so, and that the government will provide a complicated reimbursement to the insurer for the coverage. If that sounds unclear, it's because the proposal is unclear. And it is even worse for self-insured nonprofits like Wheaton College, who don't have an external insurer. For them, there's no proposed rule, just a handful of questionable suggestions offered for public comment.

Finally, for the extraordinarily narrow religious exemption that is currently in the Mandate, the Administration proposes removing the offensive language that exempts only those religious organizations that minister to their own members. But that's hardly much of an improvement given that the Administration says that it does not intend the new exemption to be any broader than the old one. Worse, while the existing exemption allows exempt ministries to provide insurance for non-exempt affiliated organizations (such as a church covering its related daycare ministry), the new exemption would remove that umbrella protection.

In a way, the whole proposal reminds me of the old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin seeks to soften his mother up by first asking if he can set fire to his mattress and then if he can ride his tricycle on the roof; after getting the expected "No, Calvin" to both requests, he makes his move and asks if he can have a cookie. When she calmly answers "No, Calvin" again, Calvin realizes "she's on to me."  By comparison, the Administration started its attack on religious liberty so outrageously that its proposal could seem, at least to some, almost reasonable by comparison. But the answer to the question "Is this infringement on religious liberty okay?" is still "No."

What is the current status of the lawsuits the Becket Fund is defending?

All of the lawsuits remain unchanged by the Administration's proposal. The lawsuits that, like the Hobby Lobby case, are pending remain pending; the lawsuits that, like the Wheaton College case, are stayed remain stayed. And our goal remains unchanged:  obtaining an exemption for the religious objectors. When people have legitimate conscience objections, our nation has a proud history of exempting them out of respect for their consciences; that's what should happen here. We welcome the Administration to make that happen and, if they won't, we will continue asking federal courts to do so.

Do you think it is likely this issue will be taken up by the Supreme Court? And if so, how do you think they'll decide?

The issue certainly appears to be headed to the Supreme Court, and the cases on behalf of businesses like Hobby Lobby will most likely be the first ones to arrive there. While I can't predict how the Court would ultimately come down on the issue, the overwhelming success of businesses in lower federal courts is definitely a good sign.


The Obama administration has opened a comment period on its proposed rule that lasts until April 8. Anyone who wishes to comment can, and Planned Parenthood has already started seeking comments that are favorable to the proposal. You can let the Administration know what you think here by typing in your comment or uploading a document that you've already saved which contains your comment.

Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator. You can follow him on Twitter.

  • Melody

    Did we bring this on ourselves with our need to be so separate from Catholics we didn't even acknowledge that abortion was murder for how many years?

  • Will

    Wait a minute? When did the gospel of Jesus Christ's saving redemption turn into a political, hard right, republican, campaign movement? Seriously, a non-christian looking in the church would have assumed Jesus was running for politics in Rome and endorsing some emperors over others.

    There is nothing complicated by the accommodation. Women need access to healthcare. The Catholic church who we aren't even suppose to be taking orders from since we are protestant Christians doesn't want to pay for it. A separate entity provides healthcare for the woman that is not cost to the church or faith based institution. Church/Faith Based organization doesn't pay for abortificant/birth control and women get access to health care.

    Not every women on birth control is sexually active or using them to have sex. They can be used to regulate cycles and prevent cramps. Only a legalist and a pharisee would object to something so trivial when Obama has been more than accommodating to the demands of the evangelical right.

    Also access to birth control leads to fewer abortions. As someone who does not like or approve of abortions, LESS abortions is MORE & BETTER! This is backed by FACTS and hard data.
    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57526550/study-free-birth-control-leads-to-way-fewer-abortions/

    As a christian I think we should be focusing on being better Christians and growing to be better disciples, not playing right wing politics. No wonder christians are leaving church in droves. We are more interested in pushing conservative political agendas than learn about who Jesus is and how to have a relationship with him.

    Have a great day and God bless!

    • http://www.4men1hope.wordpress.com Stephen

      Wow...

    • Mike

      @Will -- While some methods of political engagement in the past can and should be critiqued, we should resist the urge to retreat completely from the public square and hole ourselves up in an essentially privatized religion. Christianity has always been a public faith -- one that cannot merely be practiced within the safe confines of our homes or church buildings. Acts ends with Paul spending two years wandering around the streets of Rome under the nose of Ceaser (the Washington D.C. / President of the 1st century) proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

    • Phil

      Will,

      (using your intro...) Wait a minute? When did the gospel of Jesus Christ's saving redemption render us at odd with participating in civics as responsible citizens? It didn't. Nice try though.

      Spare us the lecture on how we Christians shouldn't be involved in polititcs. Oh, wait, you said "right wing" politics. Now we see. You just get rankled at Christians involved in "right wing" politics, but -- and this is nearly always the case -- you're just dandy with "Christians" supporting leftist politics, eh?

      You wrote: "No wonder christians are leaving churches in droves." This is laughable. The "churches" that are dying are liberal mainline denominations -- PCUCA, UMC, etc. -- that abandoned truth, holiness and morality decades ago. Now their increasingly empty buildings now dot the American landscape like the skeletons of dead theology that they are. Meanwhile, the Evangelical church is doing just fine. Standing for God in the midst of wickness has never been a wise popularity move, so spare us the attendance lecture, too.

  • Melody

    Will

    You say access to healthcare like someone is trying to stop women from having life saving procedures like heart surgery or cancer treatment. Killing an unwanted baby is not healthcare.

    Hormones that regulate a woman's cycle are the not the same as abortion inducing drugs. As a woman, I really think you need to educate yourself on it.

    The same people that want women to have the freedom to kill their babies do NOT want them to have an ultrasound so that they can make an informed decision. Healthcare as long as you make the decisions that they want you to make.

  • pba

    I am new to this debate so I found the post quite helpful. I have some questions, though. I take it the central worry with the Mandate is that it violates religious liberty in requiring Christian business owners to provide insurance that includes abortion and birth control coverage. But don’t Christians already violate their conscience in paying taxes which are used to fund Medicaid and Planned Parenthood which provide birth control? So how is the Mandate really anything new (and how does it require Christians to violate their conscience in any way they already aren’t violating it?).

    Second, I am a bit confused about the nature of the objection that the organizations have to the Mandate. Someone could work, say, for Hobby Lobby or Wheaton College and use their paycheck for birth control or abortion services. This does not violate the conscience of those in the organizations (I take it) because it is the individual’s decision to seek those potentially immoral services and the organization does not claim authority over the individual’s use of their compensation so long as it is legal etc. How is it any different when the insurance provided by those organizations offers birth control and abortion services? So again, wouldn’t the actually consistent position here be one where religious organizations could fire their employees for any use of their compensation that is perceived as immoral by the organization? Either that, or allow that the Mandate doesn’t really violate the conscience of those in religious organizations—at least not in any new and especially objectionable way--right?

    • Michael

      PBA-

      I am very glad to see you are engaging in the discussion! This is certainly a timely and sensitive matter that American citizens - and Christians in particular - need to be made aware of.

      Both of these matters boil down to the issue itself. While tax money does go to support Planned Parenthood, government money (so far) has not directly funded abortion. Surely, those involved in the Beckett Case would rather their tax money NOT go to support Planned Parenthood, as many would likely not want their money to go to pay for war, or certain politicians salary, or many other government projects. However, they are submitting to the authorities God has allowed to be placed in their government and "Rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar's."

      However, as Christians we must stand when the authorities over us are in fault of forcing us to betray God's commands. Abortion is taking a life. You brought up a GREAT point with the employees of these organizations. If one of these employees was fired for taking an abortive drug, that organization would be sued, and rightly so. The organization cannot mandate how their employees live in their personal life. None of these organizations seem to be asking to prevent their employees from taking abortive drugs (though certainly they would all hope the employees would choose life.) But the government is mandating that these organizations PAY for the employees abortive drugs.

      Let us put ourselves in the situation. We go into business and the Lord grants us success. We honor him by running our business based on Biblical principles. Then we decide we are going to have our employees say "God bless you" as customers leave the way Chick-Fil-A always says "My pleasure." Then, there is a mandate you can't say "God" unless you say "Buddha, Mohammed, and all other deities." That would be a violation of our rights. How much more severe when it comes to an issue as cruel as abortion.

      It is not a political agenda, it is a Kingdom of Christ agenda. As believers, we are called to engage the world. We are not seeking to gain some political advantage to force all Americans to go to church on Sundays. However, when it comes to the slaughter of millions of innocent children in the womb we MUST take a stand. I believe we will give an account for how we fought this battle before God. May we fight the good fight.

      Grace and peace,

      Michael

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