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Law's contraception mandate could have dire consequences

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Lopez

What does back-to-school season have to do with the recent "contraception rule" from the White House?

Hadley Heath, a senior policy analyst at the Independent Women's Forum, points to Pius X Catholic High School in Lincoln, Neb., which has sued the federal government. They are "arguing that the school would be forced to choose between compliance or shutting its doors entirely," says Heath. Many religious institutions object to the federal law that ensures access to birth control and abortion-inducing drugs to women with health insurance.

Why would the school ever have to shut down? Because of the punitive fines that come with disobeying the controversial Department of Health and Human Services mandate. If the government decides to collect those fines, choosing religious principle over Caesar's edict would prove crippling to the likes of Pius X in dioceses across the country.

Focusing on children is one of the ways IWF is hoping to reframe the debate over the dangerous implications of the president's health care law. As the HHS mandate went into effect on Aug. 1, IWF released an infographic showing how the law "comes with severe consequences to our liberty, our health care, and our pocketbooks." IWF further breaks down what choices the president's health care plan is forcing on schools, hospitals and charities, among others, and the financial consequences of non-compliance.

Many of the schools that Heath is concerned about are now facing a decision: "Do we violate the tenets of our faith and offer health insurance that covers sterilization and contraception, or do we pay a huge fine and shift resources away from our students, teachers and educational programming? We shouldn't be asking these schools to make this choice," Heath says.

Heath sees other dire consequences in store. "At first it may seem like a benefit to get birth control at 'no-cost,' but the cost is very great. Can you imagine being rushed to your local hospital -- perhaps it is operated by Catholics -- in the midst of an emergency, only to find out they can't treat you because that wing of the hospital was shut down to finance the HHS mandate penalties?"

That's a different take on the issue. Usually, the Catholic Church is accused of wanting to legislate its morality, of infringing on others' freedom. In fact, at a recent forum celebrating this particular regulation, Democratic consultant Karen Finney accused the mandate's critics of misogyny, in contrast to a president who "gets it that all these issues for women as human beings are all-encompassing."

But to paint that picture is to miss something fundamental: freedom. It's precisely the right to live one's faith every day that has brought together the likes of the Catholic University of America, the Evangelical Wheaton College and even small businesses like the Seneca Hardwood Lumber Co. in Cranberry, Pa. -- which happens to be run by Catholics who believe what their Church teaches and want to live with integrity even as they run a business -- in opposition to the mandate. And the realities of our current economy make it all the more perplexing that the White House would insist that a primary issue of the hour is contraception access, a matter so urgent as to require putting the existence of religious-based services in jeopardy.

At the same liberal forum as Finney, feminist hero Sandra Fluke insisted that the mandate is needed for the sake of women's health. But, as Heath points out: "Without a mandate, many employers who oppose birth control for religious reasons are happy to select an insurance plan that covers the drugs for women who require them for non-contraceptive use ... so that isn't really at issue." In fact, the case that Fluke most often cites, about an anonymous friend with cysts, seemed to involve a question of bureaucratic confusion, not religious conviction. It's a problem that can be fixed without this mandate. Religious freedom is actually not about refusing to treat medical conditions.

The mandate, Heath says, "clearly injects government into a debate about deeply personal moral convictions. We believe that debate is best had in civil society where good people with good intentions are free to come to different conclusions."

"I'm not Catholic, and I have no moral issue with birth control," Heath tells me. "But there are plenty of women, like me, who see this as government going too far ... Look at the division this has caused."

"If the government asks Catholics to violate their conscience today, who could it be tomorrow? " Heath asks.

Kathryn Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online www.nationalreview.com. She can be contacted at klopeznationalreview.com.