Commentary

The Illiberality of ObamaCare

On Friday, President Obama tried to quell the uproar over his ongoing effort to force Catholics (and everyone else) to pay for contraceptives, sterilization, and pharmaceutical abortions. Unfortunately, the non-compromise he floated does not reduce by one penny the amount of money he would force Catholics to spend on those items. Worse, this mandate is just one manifestation of how the president’s health care law will grind up the freedom of every American.

Even though the contraceptives mandate exempts parish priests and the Church hierarchy, it still violates Catholics’ religious liberty in at least four ways.

First, the mandate fines Catholic institutions like Notre Dame and the Eternal World Television Network that adhere to the Church’s teaching that contraception “is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.” In order not to sin against their God, these employers must now pay tribute to Caesar.

[T]his mandate is just one manifestation of how the president’s health care law will grind up the freedom of every American.”

Second, it takes away the freedom of Catholics to donate to institutions that uphold their religious views. There is a reason my parents donate to Catholic institutions rather than Planned Parenthood: they don’t want to fund contraception. The mandate takes away that choice.

Third, it violates the freedom of Catholic business owners. How is it that the First Amendment protects the religious liberty of the employers who sit on the altar, but not the equally devout employers who sit in the pews?

Fourth, it violates the freedom of Catholic workers by forcing nearly every individual American to purchase contraceptive coverage. How is it that the First Amendment protects a devout Catholic if she works as a secretary for her local parish, but not if she works as a scientist at an environmental consulting firm?

The administration’s defense of the mandate — that a majority of self-identified Catholics use contraception and that some Catholic institutions already cover it — likewise has at least four flaws.

First, thank God we don’t live in a theocracy that forces those folks to adhere to Church dogma. But why should the government commit the opposite sin of forcing doctrinaire Catholics to violate a religious principle that imposes no harm on others? Second, Catholics are not the only ones who consider contraception sinful. Third, it is nonsense to argue that the percentage of Americans who believe contraception is forbidden by God is small enough that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to them; the whole point of the First Amendment is to protect minorities. Devout Catholics are a minority, but they are quite sincere.

Finally, it’s not just people who consider contraception sinful that oppose this mandate. That’s because the mandate also violates the freedom of those who have non-religious reasons for not wanting to purchase contraceptives, who would rather pay for contraceptives out of pocket, or who want such coverage now but might change their minds in the future.

Rather than respect each individual’s freedom to make their own choice, President Obama demands that even those who will never need contraception — gays, lesbians, the post-menopausal, the celibate, the infertile — must underwrite other people’s sex lives.

In his most recent address to Congress, President Obama asked Americans to emulate the military, encouraging us not to “obsess over [our] differences,” but to “focus on the mission at hand.” The president seeks to achieve universal health insurance coverage by forcing everyone to purchase it. With a populace sharply divided over what health insurance should include, however, that mission becomes an altar for sacrificing individual rights.

President Obama is not the first world leader to call on his people to subordinate their essential diversity and freedom to a military ethos. Even left-wing Catholics like E.J. Dionne and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) protested the health care law’s impact on this one type of liberty. That suggests how illiberal an enterprise universal coverage really is.

Michael F. Cannon is director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute and coauthor of Healthy Competition: What’s Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It.