Evangelicals, Contraception, and the Affordable Care Act

Evangelicals, Contraception, and the Affordable Care Act December 7, 2012

Fred Clark (“slacktivist”) and other hard-left progressives have accused evangelicals of lying about the abortifacient nature of some contraceptives.  According to this view of things, evangelicals are really just dead-set on opposing anything associated with President Obama, so they have invented the excuse that some contraceptives are abortifacient (abortion-inducing) in order to give themselves a justification for joining Catholic efforts to overturn Obamacare or at least eliminate its contraceptive mandate.  In fact, with his usual charity and subtlety (/sarcasm), Clark conflates opposing contraception in principle (which evangelicals generally do not) with opposing the use of specific contraceptives that can cause the destruction of a fertilized egg (which evangelicals generally do), and likewise conflates opposing contraception (do not) with opposing church-supported distribution of condoms to unmarried young people (often do).

I asked Rob Schwarzwalder to lay out the argument on why so many evangelicals view some “emergency contraceptives” as abortifacient and why so many feel that the Affordable Care Act infringes upon their freedom of conscience.


Evangelicals, Contraception, and the Affordable Care Act

Rob Schwarzwalder

Senior Vice President of the Family Research Council

The Obama Administration’s demand that employers, including religious ones, offer health insurance plans including contraceptive drugs crosses several important lines.  It is for that reason that 40 cases have been filed against the contraception mandate with 110 plaintiffs.

First, the mandate applies to all businesses and non-profits. It does however provide an exemption for “religious employers” so narrow it applies only to “houses of worship.” This means that Evangelical and Catholic colleges and universities, Catholic hospitals, and privately-held businesses run according to the traditional theology of their owners (including Bible publishers) will be required to provide their employees with a menu of medical insurance programs at least one of which must contain a provision that includes coverage of contraceptives, drugs that can induce abortion (abortifacients), and sterilization.

The theology of many of these institutions and firms is such that to provide contraceptives and recognized abortifacients would require them to violate their convictions.  The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to all forms of contraception, believing such to be sin (“sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation”).

Additionally, both Evangelical Protestants and Catholics believe abortion is the extinguishment of a person created by God, a being at whose conception personhood begins.  Thus, abortion is a profound assault on human dignity and a violation of the Sixth Commandment, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

Clearly, the Affordable Care Act (often referred to as “Obamacare”) mandates coverage of both chemical contraceptives and and “emergency contraceptive” drugs that can function as abortifacients.  This was well-documented by my former colleague Jeanne Monahan, now president of the March for Life movement, in her February 28, 2012 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee:

In 1993, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) which holds a law or regulation that imposes a “substantial burden” on a person’s free exercise of religion to be allowed only when the government can demonstrate “that application of the burden” furthers “a compelling governmental interest.” In a related hearing on this mandate Bishop William Lori was asked if he believed that the government had a “compelling interest” sufficient to warrant a contraceptive mandate that will burden Catholic or others’ religious beliefs. Bishop Lori responded that if the government felt they had a “compelling interest” to burden religious liberty, it would not have provided for any kind of religious exemption … in the list of drugs to be provided with no cost-sharing are those categorized as emergency contraceptives (EC). The first of these drugs is Levonorgestral, or Plan B. Plan B possesses a number of mechanisms of action which can prevent a newly formed embryo from implanting in the uterine wall … The second problematic FDA-approved drug covered by the mandate is ulipristal acetate, marketed as Ella® by Watson Pharmaceuticals. Including Ella in the mandatory category of “preventive care service for women” means that HHS is requiring each health insurance plan to cover a drug which possesses the ability to kill an implanted embryo. The demise of an embryo post-implantation is widely agreed by all, even those who define pregnancy at implantation, to constitute an abortion.

Mandatory provision of insurance plans that include coverage of abortifacient drugs is a gross violation of what millions of Protestants and Catholics recognize as a biblical duty to protect, rather than end, human personhood.

However, it is troubling that some Evangelical Protestants seem willing to dismiss, or at least distance themselves from, Catholic teaching on contraception.  In recent years, on two occasions, prominent Evangelical leaders have said to me, with respect to contraception, “We’re not Catholic.”

And the point is – what?  That Catholics should be forced to pay for contraceptives because Evangelicals don’t believe all contraceptives result in abortion?  This is ludicrous moral reasoning: “We want respect for our beliefs about the sanctity of life, but those Catholics are just too extreme and we’re embarrassed by their stance, so they’ll have to pay.”

What rot.  While many Evangelicals who have studied the chemical mechanism of oral contraceptives have concluded that there is at least a possibility that such drugs can cause abortion and, therefore, have eschewed them as well, other Evangelicals who have studied the use of such drugs disagree.

What is more important is that Evangelicals – people of the Gospel – should be the first to recognize that human volition is a gift from God, not a bequest of the state, and as such it should be honored when exercised conscientiously and in consistency with what the Founders termed “ordered liberty.”  Not to stand with Catholics in their unwillingness to pay for contraception would be rank hypocrisy, a particularly distasteful form of moral cowardice and pretence of which Evangelicals should not be guilty.  Regardless of your view on contraceptives, we should all agree to protect the religious freedoms of all Americans, including those who believe paying for contraceptive coverage violates their conscience.

To come back to the first and integrating principle: One’s conscience is a matter between the individual and God, and the state is not an intermediary between them.  Someone might ask, “So if my conscience tells me to become a cannibal, should there no restraints?”

This question fails at a presuppositional level: Society is composed of individuals living according to a commonly understood code of ethical conduct, reflected in the second tablet of the Decalogue and confirmed by “the law written on the heart” (Romans 2:14), the conscience.  Respect for the exercise of moral judgment, insofar as such does not diminish the well-being of others, is essential to the American experiment in representative self-government.

As Melissa Moschella contended earlier this year in The Public Interest,

… conscience rights aren’t absolute trumps; they are conditioned by the needs of public order and others’ rights. Given their fundamental importance, however, the common good requires respecting conscience rights unless it is absolutely necessary for the achievement of a truly compelling state interest—as it would be, for example, if a religion required its members to engage in human sacrifice, or to act violently toward nonbelievers.

The conscience itself is not only a matter of universal moral intuition but of reason.  For example, if one’s most fundamental possession is himself, his murder is a form of both theft and also of substantial irreverence, as God is the author of life and alone has the right to “give and take away.”

Religious liberty is at the heart of who we are as a people.  The Founders recognized that if man’s allegiance were primarily to the state, the state could offer and retract “rights” at its will.  If, however, such liberty comes from God, the rights of man remain constant and should be politically and social immune from the whim of that servant of the people, the government.

This liberty applies both to religious non-profits, and for-profit businesses that hold moral and religious views. Proponents of the mandate claim businesses have no right to religious freedoms in the free market, and that religious beliefs should be protected only in church. But why should Tyndale House, the largest publisher of the Bible and also a for-profit business, not have its religious convictions recognized or have those convictions protected?

As my colleague Ken Klukowski, a respected constitutional scholar, has noted, “(If) religious exercise includes living out your faith in your daily life, then you would find it appalling that the federal government would order a business owner to subsidize something he considers immoral, and possibly even participating in the ending of an innocent human life” (http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/11/25/Federal-Courts-Split-on-Religious-Liberty-and-Obamacare).

It is perilous to allow government to do violence to the conscience of an individual, a church, a business, or a college.  It’s immoral.  It’s anti-Christian.  And it’s un-American.


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