An Open Letter on the “Compromise”

(The following is an open letter signed by several prominent intellectuals, in response to the Administration’s “compromise”.  It is an important and cogent summary of the significance of that proposal, so I offer it to you in its entirety.  It was originally posted here.)

Today the Obama administration has offered what it has styled as an “accommodation” for religious institutions in the dispute over the HHS mandate for coverage (without cost sharing) of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. The administration will now require that all insurance plans cover (“cost free”) these same products and services.  Once a religiously-affiliated (or believing individual) employer purchases insurance (as it must, by law), the insurance company will then contact the insured employees to advise them that the terms of the policy include coverage for these objectionable things.

This so-called “accommodation” changes nothing of moral substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience which gave rise to the controversy.  It is certainly no compromise.  The reason for the original bipartisan uproar was the administration’s insistence that religious employers, be they institutions or individuals, provide insurance that covered services they regard as gravely immoral and unjust.  Under the new rule, the government still coerces religious institutions and individuals to purchase insurance policies that include the very same services.

It is no answer to respond that the religious employers are not “paying” for this aspect of the insurance coverage.  For one thing, it is unrealistic to suggest that insurance companies will not pass the costs of these additional services on to the purchasers.  More importantly, abortion-drugs, sterilizations, and contraceptives are a necessary feature of the policy purchased by the religious institution or believing individual.  They will only be made available to those who are insured under such policy, by virtue of the terms of the policy.

It is morally obtuse for the administration to suggest (as it does) that this is a meaningful accommodation of religious liberty because the insurance company will be the one to inform the employee that she is entitled to the embryo-destroying “five day after pill” pursuant to the insurance contract purchased by the religious employer.  It does not matter who explains the terms of the policy purchased by the religiously affiliated or observant employer.  What matters is what services the policy covers.

The simple fact is that the Obama administration is compelling religious people and institutions who are employers to purchase a health insurance contract that provides abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization.  This is a grave violation of religious freedom and cannot stand.  It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept as assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick.

Finally, it bears noting that by sustaining the original narrow exemptions for churches, auxiliaries, and religious orders, the administration has effectively admitted that the new policy (like the old one) amounts to a grave infringement on religious liberty.  The administration still fails to understand that institutions that employ and serve others of different or no faith are still engaged in a religious mission and, as such, enjoy the protections of the First Amendment.


John Garvey
President, The Catholic University of America

Mary Ann Glendon
Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University

Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

O. Carter Snead
Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame

Yuval Levin
Hertog Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center

Tags: ,

2 Responses to “An Open Letter on the “Compromise””

  1. James Leach, MD says:

    I disagree with the “learned” individuals. Women who want contraceptives should have it covered by prescription insurance. This is a matter of prudent public health. My response will be to stop contributing any moneys to those institutions that refuse to comply.
    As a dermatologist, I will start to treat more women with acne with oral contraceptive pills if they want them. Where were the bishops and all these individuals when Bush was
    planning to invade Iraq?
    James Leach, MD (College of Physicians & Surgeons, Columbia University)
    Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Weill Medical College, Cornell University
    Diplomate, American Board of Pediatrics
    Diplomate, American Board of Dermatology (subspecialty Pediatric Dermatology)

  2. Ed Mechmann says:

    The ideology of contraception is an unfortunate fact of American life,and is well illustrated by this comment. Note this doctor’s blithe willingness to prescribe contraceptives (i.e., doses of hormones, the primary purpose of which is to fundamentally alter the natural course of a woman’s fertility cycle so as to render it inoperative) to treat the unrelated problem of facial pimples.

    As for the constitutional rights of religious individuals and institutions, there is no apparent concern.