My family has health-care coverage funded by my husband’s employer and by substantial monthly contributions from us. This policy has excluded:
• a pneumonia shot prescribed for a family member with a compromised respiratory system;
• eyeglasses for a 5-year-old;
• a plastic face mask required for a baby’s nebulizer.
These are a few items I keep in mind when the federal government begins to discuss “essential services.” What are they? According to Health and Human Services, they include contraceptives, sterilization and drugs that induce early abortion.
The key question is this: Can the federal government mandate that a citizen or an organization fund products or services fundamentally at odds with their values? Can the federal government compel an individual to violate his or her conscience?
Certainly this is not the first example of government or institutional overreach into areas of conscience. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sparked a firestorm in 2005 with an executive order mandating that pharmacists fill prescriptions for the so-called morning-after pill, an abortifacient drug. Six years later, an Illinois circuit court ruled against this.
Closer to home, a student at Augusta State University was recently told in class that apparently social workers who object to same-sex marriage would not be permitted to work in anything but religious institutions. They cannot counsel clients on issues unrelated to same-sex marriage; they cannot recuse themselves from cases that put their beliefs at odds with those of patients.
What next? Will pro-life doctors be forced to perform abortions as part of their training? If they refuse, will they be dismissed from medical school? How many fields will be closed to people who attempt to live their lives according to the precepts of their faith? Will people of faith be increasingly marginalized?
This is not a Catholic issue. It is not a Christian issue. It’s a constitutional issue, specifically a First Amendment issue: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” the amendment reads, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ... .”
As the quote goes, reputedly from Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Write to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; write to your senators and representatives; and write to President Obama. Let’s do something.