An expert in religious freedom says that the White House's defense of the contraception mandate contains inaccurate information and does not address the main complaints raised by its critics.
Brian Walsh, executive director of the American Religious Freedom program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said that some of the the claims made by the White House are “not factually accurate” and a number of its points “aren’t even relevant.”
“It’s certainly not a direct response” to the concerns of religious freedom that have been raised in recent days, but is simply restating the administration’s position on contraception,Walsh told CNA on Feb. 2.
Walsh's remarks were aimed at a Feb. 1 blog post by Cecilia Muñoz, the Director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, who attempted to clarify “the facts” surrounding the controversial mandate.
On Jan. 20, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that virtually all employers would be required to purchase health insurance plans that cover contraception – including drugs that cause abortion – and sterilization at no cost to employees.
The very narrow religious exemption to the mandate includes only those organizations that exist for the purpose of inculcating religious values and that both primarily serve and employ members of their own faith.
The administration refused to broaden the exemption, despite an outcry of protest from religious individuals and organizations who will be excluded from the exemption and believe that their religious freedom and rights of conscience are being violated.
In her Feb. 1 blog post, Muñoz justified the administration’s decision by saying that although companies will be required to purchase contraceptive coverage, women will not be forced to use it, and doctors will not be forced to prescribe it.
She also argued that multiple states already require contraceptive coverage in insurance plans.
Muñoz asserted that contraception coverage actually “reduces costs” for employers because they will not have to pay costs associated with their employees’ unintended pregnancies.
Walsh responded that the White House’s assertions “don’t address the core” of the religious freedom concerns that were raised by the mandate.
He also found several statements on the blog post to be factually inaccurate.
The claim that “churches are exempt from the new rules” is “not entirely correct,” he said.
Walsh said that in some areas, new “church plants” are being built from scratch for the purpose of reaching out to those who have no faith or have left their faith.
Because these churches do not restrict their services to primarily members of their own faith, they would not qualify for the mandate’s religious exemption.
Walsh also said that the White House is playing “word games” in its claim that “drugs that cause abortion are not covered by this policy.” He noted that the drug Ella, which is covered by the mandate, prevents an already-fertilized embryo from attaching to the uterus, thereby causing an early abortion.
He added that the blog’s statement that “no Federal tax dollars are used for elective abortions” is “inaccurate and misleading.”
President Obama reversed the Mexico City Policy during his first week in office, he explained, and since that time, federal taxpayer money has gone “to fund abortion providers in foreign countries.”
Walsh also tackled the White House’s claim that “contraception is used by most women,” including Catholics. He said that the Catholic Church is very clear in its opposition to birth control, and the fact that not all Church members follow that teaching is not a sufficient reason to “sweep away” religious liberty.
Religious liberty is not “subject to majority vote,” he said. “That’s not truly religious freedom.”