Memo to the President: Mandate 2.0 is still a failure

Dear President Obama,

I see that your Administration has just issued new rules in an attempt to appease me and all the other Americans who have concerns about your mandatory-contraception coverage. The formal fact sheet describing these rules says that you are accepting feedback through April 5. Perhaps something new will come up within the next two months, but I already have plenty of “feedback” for your consideration.

Your HHS Mandate, so called because the Department of Health and Human Services is implementing your “Patient Protection and Affordable Care” Act, rested on your conclusion that it was a matter of public health for women to be rendered chemically or surgically sterile for most of their reproductive years. This was so important to you, in fact, that you approved calling such practices “preventive” and making them available with no co-pay.

You cited advisors at the “Institute of Medicine” who concluded that it is much cheaper for women to be chemically altered than to have babies. Sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs made it into the Mandate as well. No corresponding concern for the cost savings attendant upon male contraception and sterilization made it into your guidelines for “preventive” services.

So, here’s my first concern as I contemplate your new rules: Your contempt for my religion still permeates your health care plan. It is a matter of deep religious belief for me that fertility is a gift, to be regulated by means consistent with human dignity, and at no point considered to be a public health problem. And if you call contraception “preventive,” then you are calling fertility a problem.

Second concern: Women aren’t broken and they don’t need fixing. If only you hadn’t called contraception for women a “preventive” service, we wouldn’t need to have this conversation. How ironic that an Administration that has claimed “being a woman shouldn’t be a pre-existing condition” has codified precisely the opposite.

Since contraception is a direct violation of Catholic teaching, the Mandate hit home for all the Catholic bishops in the United States. They spoke out with one voice. This is no small matter, since many people depend on Catholic churches and schools for employment and insurance coverage. Soon after the bishops cast a glaring light on the religious-liberty violation inherent in the Mandate, representatives of other faiths spoke up with the same concerns.

It took you several months, but your Administration started carving out exemptions. At first, your Mandate restricted the definition of exempt religious institutions to those that primarily serve people of that particular faith. Hospitals and schools that didn’t screen users for religious conformity didn’t count. You were quite justly criticized for attempting to tell the American people what a “religious institution” looked like.

Today’s new regulations appear to address that, sorta kinda. Instead of one executive agency (HHS) deciding what’s religious, you are turning the matter over to another executive agency, the IRS, that has been making that determination for years. The new regs also exempt non-profit religious organizations that meet four criteria, or jump through four hoops, to the satisfaction of whatever agency is going to implement this whole policy. Seldom do the American people have cause to be glad the IRS is going to define religion, but at least by bringing the tax people into it, you are making an effort at consistency.

But what about individuals? What about groups that do not hold themselves out to be “religious” but are nonetheless animated by a respect for life that makes the Mandate abhorrent to them? What about a business owner – someone who owns a hobby store, as an example – who has religious objections to providing contraception and abortion-inducing drugs by way of employee health insurance?

Third concern: Individuals have religious liberty AND conscience protection under our Constitution, and those protections are not forfeited when individuals form groups or run businesses. 

Mr. President, maybe your own conscience dictates that contracepted women are good for public health, quite apart from what the Institute of Medicine tells you. Even so, your Mandate fails as valid public policy. Today’s rules might render moot some of the court challenges to the Mandate, but not all. It appears that your Administration will have to defend the proposition that in the name of public health, the First Amendment does not apply to individuals. That’s a tall order.

You could have avoided all this simply by declining to classify women’s induced infertility as a “preventive service.” You could have left alone the co-payments for contraception. Since you acted as you did, and since you are sticking to that, there is no way I can support the Mandate. I will do everything in my power to support legal efforts to overturn it.

With all due respect,

Ellen Kolb

 

President Obama on the Incomplete Journey

“Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.” Thus speaketh our President in his second inaugural address on this MLK Day.

True enough, sir. See you in Washington on Friday for the March for Life.

Gratitude, Even In November

http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/333828/gratitude-even-november-2012-nro-symposium

From today’s National Review Online, this link will take you to a collection of brief reflections on gratitude. One writer in particular struck me. From Edward T. Mechmann:

“While our modern media tend to concentrate on the big picture, the reality is that a true Culture of Life is the product of a myriad of decisions made on the personal, individual level….Such small steps are invisible to our media culture, but plain to see for those who look in the right place. By the grace of God and the cooperation of everyday people, a Culture of Life is being built within the ruins of our age, one heart and one life at a time. That gives us great cause for thanksgiving.”

To Undecided Reps, Rx for Fear: Read the Bills

As I checked my Twitter feed recently, the oft-quoted axiom came to mind about a lie getting halfway around the world before truth gets its pants on. An overwrought writer responded to a tweet I wrote for Cornerstone, in which I urged the New Hampshire legislature to override Governor Lynch’s vetoes of the partial-birth and fetal-homicide bills, by tweeting “Who cares if women die! Protect the fetus, so you can ignore it once it’s born.#christiantaliban”

I am not enough at home in the Twitterverse to wage effective rhetorical war 140 characters at a time. Yet I cannot back off completely. My Twitter scold, whoever she or he is, is not conveying the truth. Neither did the governor in his veto messages. Representatives and senators can choose to make their decisions based on fact instead of fear when they consider overriding the vetoes on the 27th. Read the bills.

A recent veto message by Governor Lynch on a school choice bill contained an erroneous claim. Charlie Arlinghaus of the Josiah Bartlett Center called out the governor for his “factually incorrect veto.” Arlinghaus concluded with the stinging admonition, “Read it before you veto it.”  In a second school-choice veto three days later, the governor based his objections on what was actually in the second bill. I only wish there had been two fetal homicide bills so the governor would have had a chance to correct himself again.

In vetoing the fetal homicide bill, Governor Lynch falsely claimed that “this legislation … would allow the State of New Hampshire to prosecute a pregnant woman”.  The governor missed the plain language of  HB 217: “nothing in [this bill] shall apply to any act committed by the woman pregnant with the fetus”. In fact, HB 217 would not apply to any pregnancy termination caused by any person acting with the consent of the mother.

And then there’s the partial-birth abortion ban. “Who cares if women die?” Everyone cares, except those who unfortunately don’t want to hear about abortion-related maternal deaths. Remember, self-proclaimed reproductive choice advocates  fought this year to block a separate bill requiring the state to collect abortion statistics, so we all could get some authoritative information about how many women and girls suffer post-abortion complications. (That bill, HB 1680, was passed after being amended to authorize study of the idea.)

The governor wrote in his veto message that the HB 1679’s two-physician requirement for emergency situations could cause a delay that might harm a pregnant woman. No. Even if HB1679 passes, any one physician would continue to be able to terminate a woman’s pregnancy, at any point in the pregnancy, by any method he or she finds appropriate except partial-birth, in which the fetus is partially extracted from the woman’s body before being “terminated.”

Back to Twitter: “Protect the fetus, so you can ignore it once it’s born.” How does HB 1679 protect a fetus? The bill’s opponents are afraid there’s some anti-Roe monster in the closet. Not in this one, there isn’t. A woman’s right to choose abortion is unaffected.  Claims to the contrary are false. Read the bill.

As for “#christiantaliban”, no one concerned with truth could have written that. It’s catchy, though, and is probably halfway around the world as I write, along with the false claims that these bills will harm women.

The truth is still putting its pants on, so to speak. It’s right there, though, in the bills. The fears expressed by the governor and the hapless tweeter are groundless. The facts won’t change between now and the 27th.

Running the Numbers on the Override Votes

Anyone taking results for granted on next week’s override votes in New Hampshire is simply not paying attention.

Two-thirds of members present & voting in each chamber the day of the vote are required for an override. At the moment, even with the departure of Andy Sanborn, that still means 16 votes in the now-23-member Senate, which normally enjoys full attendance on session days. With the recent departures of Laurie Sanborn and D.J. Bettencourt in the House, there are 395 seats occupied, although attendance for floor sessions is usually substantially lower. (Corrections to that figure are welcomed. Resignations have kept the House below 400 members for most of this session.)

HB 1679, the partial-birth-abortion ban, passed the Senate 18-5, with Sen. DeBlois absent. Assuming no changes, even with the loss of Sanborn’s vote, the Senate will override. Ditto for HB 217, fetal homicide, which passed 18-6. That’s the good news.

The House is a different story, and since these override attempts will begin in the House, the Senate might not even get a crack at these bills. The vote hinges on three questions: will the Yea votes hold? Are any of the Nays reversible? Perhaps most significantly, how many reps will show up Wednesday?

HB 1679 passed the House 224-110, with a whopping 36 excused absences and 27 other reps simply choosing not to vote. HB 217 passed 213-125, with 47 excused absences and eleven other reps not voting. That means based on the attendance for these votes, HB 1679 reached a two-thirds majority by two votes. HB 217 was thirteen votes shy of two-thirds.

If everyone shows up for veto day – granted, that’s not likely – 264 votes are needed for override. Most challenging scenario: HB 1679 needs to hold all its previous Yeas, and add 40 more. HB 217 needs to pick up 51 votes on top of the original Yeas. Lower attendance in the House will mean fewer votes needed for override.

One hint to all the Republicans: do not count on any Democrats staying home. The minority party this session has been exemplary in its attendance and its unity. It’s actually remarkable that nine Democrats supported a ban on partial-birth abortion, while four supported the fetal homicide bill. Minority leader Terie Norelli is no doubt working to rope in those few stray votes.  Republicans were sharply fractured, despite leadership’s support for these bills: 27 voted against HB 1679; 42 opposed HB 217.

Phone calls and emails between now and the morning of June 27th could make the difference.