May 17, 2017

Republicans’ repeal and replace bill violates religious liberty

By Brad Hahn *
Republicans’ repeal and replace bill violates religious liberty

Despite all the back-slapping going on in Washington, the Republicans’ alleged repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act with the American Health Care Act, which passed the House of Representatives May 4, misses the mark on protecting religious liberties.

The debate swirls around the rising costs of medical care and pre-existing conditions, both of which should be of great concern to everyone. The AHCA, however, has still failed to address a fundamental violation of the Constitution as it relates to the Affordable Care Act and health care insurance: the violation of Americans’ religious liberty by forcing individuals to pay for health care that violates millions of citizens’ consciences. Federal government-regulated insurance still dictates that all health insurance plans provide “preventative health services” that include all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods for women. Here’s the problem: These methods include contraception, surgical sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs like Plan B (the morning-after pill) and Ella (so-called “emergency contraception”).

Science is clear that human life begins at conception, and these “preventative services” violate natural and moral law because they can block a fertilized human egg (a human person) from implanting in his mother’s womb. To be fair, the AHCA does allow states to apply for a waiver to redefine “essential health benefits.” However, it’s unlikely that many will do so.

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that the government deny women access to these “preventative health services.” They are freely available in the marketplace. However, the federal government should not force individuals to pay for services they find unconscionable and violate their freedom of religion.

Freedom of religion, the first liberty outlined in the Bill of Rights, protects U.S. citizens’ right to practice their faith freely. Freedom of religion is not merely “freedom of worship,” where exercising one’s faith is confined to private prayer or a place of worship. Freedom of religion guarantees freedom of conscience. The Founders intended that Americans’ well-formed consciences would be free to guide them in every aspect of life – including public life.

Health and Human Services’ Friday the 13th Rules – issued on Sept. 13, 2013 – are another example of federal government overreach and its violation of religious liberty. Section 1557 of the ACA, which is still in force, expands the federal definition of discrimination to include gender identity, gender expression and transgender status. There is no religious exemption in the final rule. That means health insurance companies and health-care providers must allow health insurance benefits for individuals transitioning to another sex. For example, if hormone therapy is provided to a woman in menopause, hormone therapy must be provided to a transitioning transgender person.

These not-so-subtle assaults on religious freedom by the federal government are certain to grow if the nation’s Christian cultural identity continues to decline. Americans of faith must vigorously oppose these government mandates by pressuring elected officials to uphold religious freedoms and by continued legal action. 

We should also consider abandoning health insurance all together. By taking health insurance off the table, people of faith would not be forced to violate their consciences. Thankfully, there is an opportunity that allows Christians to retain their religious freedom – health care sharing ministries. These plans are not insurance, but they allow members to share one another’s medical expenses. Members have a common set of ethical and religious beliefs, and they share medical expenses based on those beliefs. This is one glimmer of hope that Christians can hold onto while Congress works to repeal and replace a law that has backed the faithful into a corner.

Mr. Hahn is a U.S. Air Force veteran, a Phoenix, Arizona-based attorney certified in bioethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and serves as CEO of Solidarity HealthShare, based in Tempe, Arizona.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.