Finally, basic conscience rights are restored with birth control mandate rollback

Finally, basic conscience rights are restored with birth control mandate rollback
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This past Friday, the Trump administration issued two regulations related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) aimed at providing relief and greater flexibility for religious and pro-life groups to be able to opt out of health insurance coverage of drugs and devices they find morally objectionable.  

Though the new rules will only affect a small fraction of Americans — approximately 123,000 employees — for groups such as the March for Life this is a moment to celebrate the reclaiming of our most basic conscience rights, i.e., the very right to believe that life has inherent dignity from the moment of conception and therefore should be protected and defended.

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The March for Life organizes the world’s largest human rights demonstration every year in late January in our nation’s capital. The march is a symbol of our most basic constitutional freedoms — those of speech, ability to gather and the freedom to participate. Our organization works toward a day when abortion is unthinkable. Even our founding documents state that March for Life exists to defend and protect all life from the moment of fertilization/conception.

 

Much to our dismay, as a result of the 2009 passage of ObamaCare and the ensuing regulations from the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2014 March for Life learned that we were being forced to include drugs and devices that could be destructive of life in our health insurance. We had to seek legal protection.

It was an incredible shock to realize that our government would and could unjustly force a pro-life group to undermine its very reason for existence when at the same time it was letting large corporations such as Exxon, Pepsi and Visa have a bureaucratic pass.

After considering all possibilities, our Board believed that we had no other option than to fight for legal protection. In July 2014, with the help of legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) our organization filed a lawsuit against the federal government, challenging what became popularly known as the “HHS mandate.” We were forced by the government to legally defend our most basic and important pro-life principles.

After ADF worked tirelessly on our behalf we learned in August 2015 that we won the first round in our lawsuit.

It was a bittersweet victory, one we would have much preferred not to have to engage. Yet the heavy burden of going against what we believe was relieved. A federal court in Washington, DC issued an order in favor of March for Life, permanently prohibiting the federal government from forcing our organization to cover objectionable drugs and devices.

Interestingly the order was the first to be granted in favor of an organization opposed to the mandate for pro-life reasons based on moral convictions instead of religion. The court said, “If the purpose of the religious employer exemption is, as HHS states, to respect the anti-abortifacient tenets of an employment relationship, then it makes no rational sense-indeed, no sense whatsoever to deny March for Life that same respect.” The Obama administration appealed the court’s decision, but the case is currently stayed.

It is so easy to take the important things in life for granted. As Americans, at least until recently, we have held the right to be pro-life and broader conscience protections as guaranteed civil rights under federal law and the First Amendment.

These rights can not be viewed as special gifts that government can give or withhold when it chooses. America risks losing her essence as she loses her most basic protected rights.

We are deeply grateful to the Trump administration for issuing rules that will once again allow pro-life organizations like ours to freely operate according to their belief in protecting life and look forward to final resolution of our case in court that is consistent with this rule.

Friday’s decision is real victory, and a moment to celebrate, but sadly not the end. March for Life will ultimately still need final relief from the courts in our stayed lawsuit. More broadly, Americans have reinstated conscience protections but for how long? No American should be forced to choose between contradicting the beliefs they advocate and being punished by the government, regardless of politics.

Jeanne Mancini is the president of the March for Life, a pro-life organization.