It’s not about contraception

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Many people have become unswervingly convinced that the ongoing controversy surrounding the administration’s health-care mandate has something to do with contraceptives.
Certainly that’s what the mandate itself deals with – and clearly that’s the narrative the president’s political and media allies are aggressively (and, so far, successfully) advancing. But contraception actually has very little to do with the uproar.
First, let’s recap what started this debate in the first place.
Last summer, the administration revealed that its new preventative services mandate – part of the new health-care law (known to some as Obamacare) – would require most health-care plans to provide contraception, sterilization and so-called morning-after pills.
While churches were exempted from those requirements, faith-based hospitals and other church-affiliated employers were not. Thus, a Catholic hospital, a Methodist University or a Jewish charity would be required to provide free contraception to all of its employees, even if this mandate ran counter to their religious convictions.
When the public backlash against such a dramatic incursion into religious liberties became too much to handle, the president rushed to offer a compromise, supposedly exempting the religious organizations.
And, for too many people, that was the end of the debate. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Unfortunately the president’s proffered compromise merely shifted the transactional component of contraceptive and sterilization coverage from the institutions themselves to the insurance providers that administer their plans. The employer would ultimately still be paying for the coverage, just not directly.
More importantly – and this has been regularly overlooked, especially by the media – the compromise was not made part of the final rule offered by the Department of Health and Human Services the very next day.
What did become law because of the president’s press conference? A statement by HHS that they would indeed consider exempting religious organizations, but only those that, among other things, “primarily employ persons who share the religious tenets of the organization …(and) serve primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization.” (77 Fed. Reg. 8725)
Translated into English, the Obama administration is now officially taking the position that a Presbyterian hospital can only hire Presbyterians, and only serve Presbyterians. Otherwise, they aren’t religious enough to be exempted.
So while the president held a very nice press conference – and many people think the problems just went away – nothing really changed. Indeed, to the extent the administration decided to define religious organizations in an absurd way – where Jewish charities can only serve Jews – things actually may have gotten worse.
And as if that were not enough, the debate goes even further: The larger question of the mandate’s wider application across the private sector remains unresolved.
Make no mistake: No matter how this debate is resolved for faith-based institutions, the federal government will still be forcing millions of American employers to betray their core religious beliefs in support of this latest state welfare subsidy.
As is so often the case, the reason that the health-care mandate is causing such an uproar is that it speaks to something very basic about our country and our culture. Specifically, in creating yet another new entitlement, are we going to discard our most basic religious freedoms? Moreover, are we going to accept as the rationalization for this latest incursion into our lives and businesses a hastily constructed “gender war” that willfully distorts the real issues we ought to be discussing?
Let’s be clear: Nowhere in the United States Constitution or the Bill of Rights is there an enumerated right to government-funded contraception, sterilization or morning-after pills. On the other hand, the right to practice one’s religion free from persecution or government infringement is expressly guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Sadly, many mainstream media outlets have decided to drown out this genuine discussion about religious liberties with an indignant, politically correct drumbeat in support of this new “right” to contraception. Dispensing of our First Amendment rights, they are demanding that taxpayers subsidize this new contraceptive mandate, while portraying anyone who stands opposed as an “out-of-touch” misogynist.
One can only wonder if they would be so eager to defend a policy that so endangered that other First Amendment freedom – freedom of the press.
The real battleground here, then, is not contraception. Indeed, as generally accepted as contraception is in this country, it is hard to imagine much of a debate at all if that were really at the core of this discussion. The real issue is the preservation of religious freedom and individual liberty for all of us. And if that isn’t worth fighting for, one is left to wonder what is.

Mick Mulvaney represents the 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.