Obamacare overreach tramples Little Sisters: Our view
The Editorial Board, USA TODAY 9:25 p.m. EST January 12, 2014
Nuns and birth control just don't mix.
From a health care standpoint, contraceptive mandate is sound.
But the administration's rules are so narrow, they're unproductive.
The administration should adopt the most expansive exemption.
When the Obama administration picked a fight with Catholics and other religious groups over free birth control coverage for employees, sooner or later it was bound to end up doing battle with a group like the Little Sisters of the Poor.
And sure enough, the administration is now stuck arguing that it is justified in compelling nuns who care for the elderly poor to assist in offering health insurance that they say conflicts with their religious beliefs. Talk about a political loser.
PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Freedom of religion untrampled
From a health care standpoint, the Affordable Care Act's mandate that all employers provide coverage, without co-pays, for contraceptives is sound. It is important preventive care. So says the prestigious Institute of Medicine, arbiter of such things.
Wisely, churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, but the administration wrote rules so narrowly that they failed to exempt Catholic and other religiously affiliated hospitals, colleges and charities. Its position was constitutionally suspect, politically foolish and ultimately unproductive. The number of women affected is likely so small that the administration could find some less divisive way to provide the coverage.
Instead, the administration is battling Catholic bishops and nuns, Southern Baptists, Christ-centered colleges and assorted religious non-profits that filed challenges across the country. The lawsuits stem from an "accommodation" President Obama offered after his too-narrow religious exemption caused an uproar in 2012.
The accommodation is more of a fig leaf than a fix: Although religiously affiliated non-profits do not have to supply birth control coverage themselves, they must sign a certification that allows their insurance companies to provide it instead. Some non-profits have acquiesced, but not the Little Sisters and others who argue that this makes them complicit in an act that violates a tenet of their faith. If the non-profits refuse to sign, they face ruinous fines — $4.5 million a year for just two of the Little Sisters' 30 homes.
So far, the government is on a losing streak. In 19 of 20 cases, including the Little Sisters', judges have granted preliminary relief to the non-profits, allowing them to press their claims. The administration should take the hint.
In several cases, even if the government wins, the whole exercise will not result in a single woman getting a single free contraceptive, because under a different law, the insurers themselves are exempt. So what exactly does the administration hope to gain?
None of this had to happen. Federal law has several constitutionally vetted religious exemptions. The administration should adopt the most expansive, such as the one that exempts employers who share "religious bonds and convictions with a church." One of Obama's most prominent Catholic supporters, John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, urged the administration to do just that in 2011 when it was formulating its policy.
If the president offered a more meaningful compromise, other religious leaders would have a hard time saying no. The public health impact would be minimal. And religious freedom would be granted the wide berth it deserves.
USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/01/12/obamacare-contraception-little-sisters-of-the-poor-editorials-debates/4446007/