(This post originally appeared in Leaven for the Loaf, 10/1/13.)

On the How They’re Doing in D.C. scoreboard, I hereby give a point to Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter for answering her mail promptly. I then deduct ten for the content of her message.

As a resident of New Hampshire’s First Congressional district, I emailed Shea-Porter as a “government shutdown” loomed, involving funding for the president’s health care law. I told her that voting to fund government operations while withholding funding from Obamacare was fine with me. Her reply was in my inbox a few short hours later.

From the desk of CSP

Here’s the relevant portion of her message. I’ve added some bold-face emphasis.

“Last weekend, the House of Representatives voted on a Continuing Resolution that contained multiple provisions that had nothing to do with keeping the government operational. That version of the bill, which I voted against on September 29th, included a provision that would allow any employer or insurer to refuse to cover any health care services they might object to.  This would give unprecedented control over personal healthcare decisions to employers and insurers, allowing them to deny coverage for important women’s preventive health services, including HPV testing to prevent cervical cancer, domestic violence screening and counseling, and birth control.”

Like the president whose water she’s carrying, she conceded no good will to people like me who see the down side of the “Affordable” Care Act. That makes her next sentence a punch line, albeit a lousy one.

“I stand ready to work with my Republican and Democratic colleagues on finding common ground and getting things moving here in Washington.” 

I guess the First Amendment doesn’t qualify as common ground.

One of these things is not like the others … 

Note her email’s smooth blend of HPV testing, domestic violence counseling, and birth control. All are “women’s preventive health services,” according to Shea-Porter, reading from the HHS playbook. That term is the source of the HHS mandate, that outrage against the First Amendment, beside which Obamacare’s other flaws pale in comparison.

When the Department of Health and Human Services came up with regulations (in excess of 15,000 pages so far) to enforce the ACA, it defined certain “preventive” services required to be included in every health insurance plan. Those preventive services are to be provided at no cost to a covered individual, meaning no co-pay, meaning in turn that the costs are actually shared by everyone enrolled in the plan.

HPV testing is a way to monitor for cervical cancer (although it can’t prevent it, contrary to what CSP wrote; perhaps she meant Gardasil injections). So far, so good. Domestic violence counseling can prevent injury to women. Still good, although it is a puzzle to me why such counseling isn’t classified as preventive service for men as well. And that brings us to the third example of a “preventive” service cited by my congressional representative: birth control for women. It can prevent pregnancy, which under the psychedelic terms of the ACA is right up there with cancer and violence on the list of Things To Be Prevented. Men’s fertility doesn’t rate the same level of caution under the law.

My religion, among others, holds as an article of faith that human life is sacred and that fertility is not a disease. There is a sharp and clear line between contraception and health care. Further, my religion holds that contraception and abortion-inducing drugs are not only not health care but are evils to be rejected. A law that mandates that I help provide those things for other people, on pain of fines or other sanctions, is therefore an attack on my First Amendment right of religious liberty. This is true whether I am acting as a private individual or as a business owner.

If only the President and Secretary Sebelius hadn’t insisted on that “preventive” designation, we wouldn’t be having our disagreement. Up until that mandate, I had no constitutional problem with my neighbor buying her own birth control pills, since she didn’t reach into my pocket for help paying for them. Under Obamacare, such a live-and-let-live attitude is no longer consistent with public policy. In the President’s world, as in Shea-Porter’s, free birth control for women is on the same level as caring for my sick child or my ailing elders.

“Unprecedented control”

In Shea-Porter’s view, it’s imperative that employers with religious objections to contraception be forced to subsidize it anyway. She thinks that affording such people freedom of conscience would amount to “unprecedented control” over a woman’s health care decisions.

Forcing an employer to pay for birth control pills is an “unprecedented control” of its own.

I take from this that Shea-Porter believes free pills must somehow trump religious liberty. Perhaps I take too dim a view.  HHS Secretary Sebelius, when asked about the HHS mandate last year, couldn’t square it with religious liberty beyond saying, “I’m not a lawyer and I don’t pretend to understand the nuances of the constitutional balancing tests.” Madam Secretary is apparently not the only Washington denizen who has trouble with nuance. The difference between health care and health coverage, between choice and mandate, between cancer screening and fertility suppression: all are lost on my congressional representative.

“Extreme measures”

“We should start by passing a clean Continuing Resolution that funds the government,without attaching extreme measures to defund, delay, or erode the ACA.”

So what extreme measures might those be? Or are all measures extreme that interfere with Obamacare? Is there a moderate measure I can ask for – common ground, if you will – that will persuade Shea-Porter to give the First Amendment its due vis-a-vis the HHS mandate?

There was no time in our brief email exchange to explore those questions. I suspect she considers all opposition to ACA “extreme,” but again, I may be taking too dim a view.

This I know: the HHS mandate seeks to make every American complicit in the suppression of women’s fertility as a public health priority. Free pills on the house, so to speak. That’s extreme.

The shutdown

My email from Shea-Porter came just a short time after President Obama claimed “The Affordable Care Act is moving forward….[it] is a law that voters chose not to repeal last November.” Voters who stayed home last November 6, for whatever reason, have much to answer for. But here we are.

The government is “shut down” as I write, meaning no PandaCam or hikes in Yosemite, although the microphones in Washington seem to be operating at full power. Each party blames the other.  As an independent voter, I am weary of that. What is absolutely clear to me is that Obamacare partisans like my congressional representative are fully committed to putting the HHS mandate ahead of every other priority in the budget.

In her email, Shea-Porter defended the HHS mandate without calling it by name. She added insult to injury by ignoring the good faith of people who have religious objections to it. She professes the Catholic faith, as do I. She is following her conscience without recognizing my right to follow my own.

I’ll support any measure that forces reconsideration of Obamacare. Its carveouts are unacceptable; it chills expansion of small businesses; its early cost estimates are already looking ridiculously low. Any one of those issues should be enough to trigger delay and reappraisal. Important as they are, none of those flaws are as bad as the HHS mandate. It must be torn up, thrown out, disavowed. I refuse to choose between health care and the First Amendment. I want them both and I won’t settle for less.


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