I have observed with concern the growing public debate over the Health and Human Services mandate that would force private health insurance plans to provide access to contraceptives, including morning-after pills such as Ella and Plan B.
Causing even greater concern, the Obama administration continues to refuse to exempt religiously affiliated schools, hospitals and other institutions as well as others to whom provision of such products is in violation of their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs.
Since this mandate gained wide public attention, there has been no discussion by the administration of the legal and constitutional questions involved. Instead, the Obama administration and its allies on the left have done their best to muddy the waters of the debate by framing it in terms of "women’s health" and "reproductive freedom," suggesting in the process that their opponents want to make the use of contraceptives illegal. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Before an honest discussion can begin, we must first state what the debate is not about. It is not about contraception. It is not about women’s health. It is not about the Catholic Church.
Let us begin with two simple statements on which most Americans, right, left or center, can agree: One, the liberty to follow the dictates of one’s conscience and to practice one’s religion are among our most basic fundamental rights and are indeed foundational principles for our form of government.
Two, the HHS mandate will force employers offering individual health insurance plans to provide free access to certain services defined by HHS regulation to include services and products the provision of which violates the consciences and religious convictions of many Americans.
Simply stated, the HHS mandate will require many Americans to choose whether to obey God’s law as they understand it or to obey the administration’s edict. Given the stakes at issue, the president should, at the least, state the constitutional authority for his actions, which clearly infringe upon established rights of conscience and religious freedom. The fact that he has not done so is telling.
Reading between the lines, however, one thing is clear: The administration is advancing by stealth a new right that no one has ever asserted in the history of American constitutional jurisprudence and which is not found in the Constitution.
No one before has ever asserted a right to receive free services from a private third party. The administration, however, now argues that women have a constitutional right to free contraceptives and the right to force an unwilling third party to pay for it. The constitutional rights of anyone who disagrees, rights rooted in our shared history and found in a plain reading of the Constitution, must be surrendered.
For centuries, a fundamental principle of American law has been that every person is "equal before the law" regardless of rank or station. As a result, individuality and tolerance flourished as every person could act in accordance with his own conscience.
Under the new view advanced by the administration, the law is reduced to an instrument of power to subordinate the rights of some to those of others to ensure a politically correct outcome.
Every single American, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, non-religious, agnostic or atheist, should be concerned. If the federal government can demand that an institution as prominent and visible as the Catholic Church submit its fundamental convictions to arbitrary government power, it can demand that any one of us forsake our rights or our beliefs and, indeed our birthright as Americans.
If this new principle is accepted, our inalienable rights will cease to exist everywhere except in our imaginations.
Rep. Tim Krieger is a Republican representing the 57th District, covering part of Westmoreland County.