The nation’s preeminent group of pro-life Democrats believes that even with its promised accommodation, the Obama administration’s contraception mandate fails to provide adequate conscience protection for religious organizations that object to it.
Democrats For Life of America argued that “the government should give meaningful – not minimal or grudging – accommodation of conscience” in the context of health care.
The group warned that the administration’s proposed accommodation to protect objecting religious organizations “has simply proven insufficient to separate the organization from involvement in the coverage.”
On June 19, Democrats for Life submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services opposing its controversial contraception mandate, which will soon require employers to offer health insurance that covers sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that can cause early abortions.
Although the regulation includes a religious exemption, it is very narrow and applies only to non-profit organizations that exist primarily to inculcate religious values and that hire and serve primarily members of their own faith.
Religious schools, hospitals and charitable agencies, which commit themselves to serving people of any religion, do not qualify for the protection offered by the exemption.
The mandate has drawn widespread criticism and numerous lawsuits arguing that it poses a severe threat to the religious freedom of those who object to its demands.
Faced with mounting opposition, the Obama administration proposed plans for a future “accommodation” for religious groups.
The promised accommodation – which was not included in the finalized regulation – would force objecting religious employers to buy insurance plans from companies that would be required to provide the coverage for free.
However, many groups believe that the accommodation is not enough to provide relief to religious institutions that work to serve those in need.
"The religious organizations that are at the center of the contraception debate are in many cases the very same organizations who are helping the sick, the needy, and the poor," said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats For Life.
The comments filed by Day’s organization call on the Obama administration to expand the original exemption for religious employers in order to protect rights of conscience.
The administration’s narrow definition of religious employer is “extremely restrictive” and “should not appear in federal law at all,” the comments said, because it creates “a second-class category” of religious organizations that emphasize service over explicit preaching or choose to serve or employee members of other faiths.
Furthermore, the group argued, “the narrowness of the current exemption for religious organizations will set a harmful precedent,” particularly if the government were to decide to adopt a similar plan to fund abortion.
In addition, it noted the ability of some drugs included in the mandate to kill an already-created human embryo and urged particular attention to conscience protections in these cases in order to avoid “a very serious imposition on conscience.”
Day told EWTN News on June 21 that the group had initially been favorable to the Obama administration’s promised accommodation.
“We were comfortable at the time that something could be worked out,” she said.
But the organization now believes that the religious exemption must be broadened to allow for adequate conscience protection.
Democrats for Life is one of several organizations and individuals that has changed its stance on the accommodation after previously supporting it.
On June 15, the Catholic Health Association, which had initially applauded the accommodation, also issued comments emphasizing the need for a broader exemption.
Democrats for Life suggested that if the government wishes to offer free contraception coverage, it should so without involving the religious organizations that object.
"We recognize the Administration's goal to provide free contraception, but it could be done without compromising the rights of religious-based organizations who oppose abortion,” explained Day.
“The clearest and best path is to apply one of the many current and tested statutes that provides conscience protection to those organizations whose charitable or educational activities are deeply religiously motivated," she said.