Bart Stupak: I Stand With Hobby Lobby

March 24, 2014 - 3:42 PM

As a member of Congress, I was proud to vote for the Affordable Care Act, providing 32 million Americans with access to quality, affordable health care. I was eager to see many of the reforms in the act, including its provision to lower health care costs for women by increasing access to affordable preventive care.

Today, as a private citizen, I'm proud to stand with the Green and Hahn families and their corporations, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, in seeking to uphold our most cherished beliefs that we, as American citizens, should not be required to relinquish our conscience and moral convictions in order to implement the Affordable Care Act.

No, I haven't changed my position. I continue to believe the Affordable Care Act is critical to reforming our health care markets and providing a critical safety net for millions, such as those who qualify for the Medicaid expansion, or for the seriously ill who will no longer see their benefits capped by annual limits.

The objection to the Department of Health and Human Services mandate is that the preventive care provisions force businesses and their owners to extend health insurance coverage to methods of contraception that may cause the abortion of new embryos: new human beings. It is possible to support the president's signature legislation and still object to the way the preventive care provisions have been applied by the Department of Health and Human Services.

I had hoped that more of my Democratic colleagues would object to the way the contraception mandate has been applied.

During the battle over the ACA's passage, pro-life Democratic members of Congress negotiated with the president to ensure that the Act would not be employed to promote abortion. During the final debate on the Affordable Care Act, I engaged in a colloquy with Chairman Henry Waxman reaffirming that Americans would not be required to pay for abortions or violate their conscience by participating in or promoting a procedure they find morally objectionable. In response, we received an ironclad commitment that our conscience would remain free and our principles would be honored.

With our negotiations completed and our legislative intent established by the colloquy, we agreed to an executive order directing federal agencies to respect America's longstanding prohibitions on government funding of abortion and most relevant here, to respect longstanding protections for individuals and organizations conscientiously opposed to participating in or facilitating abortions.

I was deeply concerned and objected to the HHS mandate that required all health plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives, including four drugs and devices that could terminate human life at its earliest stages by preventing an embryo's implantation in the womb.

The FDA's own labeling statements, as well as other studies, indicate that drugs such as the 5-day-after pill (Ella), as well as intrauterine devices (IUDs), may operate this way.

The Greens and the Hahns cannot, in good conscience, risk subsidizing actions that may take human life. As they have for years, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga's owners will comply with the Affordable Care Act's requirements that they provide quality health insurance for their employees, including a broad spectrum of preventive services for women. They ask only that they not be required to provide four out of the 20 FDA-approved contraceptives that can destroy life in its earliest stages.

Their legal position relies on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but it's supported by our nation's especially strong and broad tradition of protecting those who object to participating in taking human life. These conscious clause protections date back to our nation's founding, when Quakers were exempted by General George Washington from bearing arms in the Revolutionary War. Today, we exempt pacifists from military service, anti-death penalty doctors from being required to assist in execution--including indirect assistance such as certifying a prisoner's mental competence before execution--and pro-life nurses from being required to assist with abortions.

The conscience clause that the Green and Hahn families rely upon is consistent with scores of federal and state laws dating back more than 40 years. States which allowed abortion before Roe v Wade included provisions permitting doctors or hospitals to opt out; now 47 of our 50 states have such provisions. Shortly after Roe, Congress passed the Church Amendment, which protects federally funded entities and their employees from having to perform or provide facilities for abortions, if doing so violates their conscience.

Congress also annually passes the Hyde-Weldon Amendment, which prohibits discrimination against health care professionals who refuse to perform or assist with abortions. The Affordable Care Act itself includes several such provisions. The executive order that President Obama signed, acknowledged, reaffirmed and ordered federal agencies to comply with all these protections.

These laws are evidence of a strong American tradition of protecting those who conscientiously object to playing any role in taking a human life at any stage of development.

We must honor the abortion conscience principle which the Green and Hahn families are fighting to uphold as well as like-minded Americans who wish to continue to provide health care coverage and preventive care for their employees. The Affordable Care Act struck an important balance between improving health care options and respecting conscience, a moral conscience that no one can violate, not even the federal government through an HHS mandate. I urge the Supreme Court to recognize and uphold this balance.

Editor's Note: Former Congressman Bart Stupak and Democrats for Life of America have filed a brief supporting Hobby Lobby and Conestoga in the US Supreme Court cases.