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A threat to conscience

How the Obama administration’s contraception mandate affects you and your business . . .

As president of Heartbeat International, Peggy Hartshorn could face a moral dilemma if a provision of the new federal health-care law remains unchanged.

Under mandates adopted Aug. 1 for private insurance plans – and hailed by Planned Parenthood, which lobbied for them as “preventive services” – Heartbeat and other faith-based organizations with employee health-insurance plans will be required to provide full coverage for surgical sterilization and prescription contraceptives, including drugs that can cause abortions.

Weak exemption

The mandates also affect hospitals, charitable institutions, universities and schools with employee health programs — many of them religiously affiliated. Some plans initially will be grandfathered in, but eventually they’re expected to lose their exemption as changes are made to them.

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said the bishops’ employee plan, for example, can continue as is until significant changes are made. Ultimately, however, the intent is that every plan in the country must comply with the mandates, he said.

Furthermore, organizations that object to the requirements on religious or moral grounds can only be exempted if they are nonprofit organizations having as their purpose the inculcation of religious values — and only if they employ and serve primarily those who share their beliefs.

That would leave out an organization like Heartbeat, which provides pregnant women with alternatives to abortion, regardless of their religious beliefs.

“It’s almost no exemption at all,” said Matt Bowman, legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). “It’s unprecedented in federal law to claim that almost no one is a religious entity. I think a lot of religious entities would be surprised to find that the Obama administration doesn’t think they are religious because they serve people who don’t have the same faith.”

Doerflinger agreed. “Only if you stop helping people are you considered religious enough to be exempt. It’s just the opposite of our notion of our faith.”

“What’s bothersome to me is this puts people in a Catch 22,” added Catholic League president Bill Donohue. “According to the wisdom of the Obama administration, because you’re not serving almost exclusively Catholic clientele, it’s a problem.”

Countermeasure

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, has called the mandates “a new threat to conscience,” adding that without sufficient legal protection for conscience rights, all Americans will be forced to carry health coverage that violates the moral and religious convictions of many.

Cardinal DiNardo is encouraging legislators to support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and in the Senate by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). The bill would amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) to protect conscience rights regarding mandates for coverage of specific items and services.

Doerflinger said the legislation provides that no mandates under the health-care act can be used to prevent insurers, purchasers or sponsors of insurance from negotiating a plan in accord with their moral or religious convictions. Currently, he said, any organization has the right to ask a private insurer to exclude certain things from coverage.

“All we’re doing is trying to maintain the status quo,” he said.

Kathleen Sebelius

Heartbeat’s Hartshorn, a member of Legatus’ board of governors, said the mandates should have been expected given the views of President Barack Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services.

“It’s very clear how strongly in the camp of Planned Parenthood and abortion providers Sebelius has always been,” Hartshorn said. “She is a major proponent of birth control and abortion. When she became head of Health and Human Services we expected the worst, so I shouldn’t have been surprised, but [the mandates] did take me aback.”

In announcing the new guidelines, Sebelius, who says she’s Catholic, called them “historic.” The mandates, she said, “are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need.”

However, Bowman countered, “Pregnancy is not a disease and these things are not preventive health care in the first place.”

Religious freedom

Meanwhile, those who oppose the mandates have submitted comments to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) arguing for an expansion of the religious exemption. The department accepted comments on the definition of a religious employer in the new rules for a 60-day period that ended on Sept. 30.

Chuck Donovan, a member of Heartbeat International’s board and senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said the HHS invitation for comment doesn’t necessarily suggest the department is willing to make changes.

“In fact,” he said, “the administration is doing other things to suggest that narrowing religious exemptions is their intent.”

ADF’s Bowman believes that forcing Christians and pro-life organizations to cover abortifacient drugs and devices over their objections would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. In addition, he said, some of the contraceptives covered by the mandate, particularly ella, can cause very early first trimester abortions.

“Those were not supposed to be part of the health insurance overhaul,” he said.

Doerflinger said the USCCB contends that the mandates represent a violation of religious freedom as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Barring Congressional action, he expects Catholic organizations will challenge the mandates in court.

If the religious exemption is not changed, Doerflinger said an employer who objects to the mandates would find that all available health-care plans provide full coverage for contraception and sterilization. “So his choice would be between buying a plan that violates his values and no plan at all,” he said.

If he chose the latter, Doerflinger said, a fine would be imposed and employees would be directed to health-care exchanges where their only choice would be to buy a plan with contraceptive coverage. In that case, the employer who objected to such coverage on moral grounds would end up subsidizing the very same care through his penalty.

“At a time when tens of millions of Americans still don’t have basic health coverage, to be mandating that all plans have to cover these controversial elective procedures is a very skewed sense of priorities,” Doerflinger said. “Our position has always been that everyone must have access to basic health coverage. Nothing should take precedence over everyone getting access to basic life-affirming services. This certainly does not qualify.”

Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.

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Resources

http://stopthebirthcontrolmandate.org/

http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/index.cfm

http://www.freedom2care.org/

Clinic crackdown

Pro-life pregnancy centers are battling back after unprecedented legislative attacks . . .

They provide millions of dollars in free services to women and infants each year, yet pro-life pregnancy resource centers across the country are facing a new wave of attacks from pro-abortion forces bent on challenging their very existence.

Legislators and the abortion lobby, in an effort they claim springs from a desire to protect the clients who use such centers, are seeking to place onerous restrictions on pregnancy centers in several cities and states.

Managing the crisis

Abortion advocates claim the centers often mislead clients by “masquerading” as health clinics, failing to provide women with information about all options available to them.

“It’s an old charge,” said Peggy Hartshorn, a member of Legatus’ Columbus Chapter and president of Heartbeat International, which serves more than 1,100 affiliated pregnancy help centers, maternity homes and nonprofit adoption agencies worldwide.

Hartshorn said such allegations date to the 1980s. The pro-life movement initially responded by making pregnancy centers more professional. In some cases, centers acquired ultrasound equipment and became clinics. Currently, about half the pregnancy resource centers in the U.S. offer ultrasounds, Hartshorn said.

But the abortion lobby hasn’t given up its quest to crack down on the centers. In 2000, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s report “Unmasking Fake Clinics” outlined strategies for sending women posing as clients into pregnancy centers to gather “evidence” that would show the need for regulations.

At the outset, pro-abortion groups set their sights on national and state legislation, but garnered little success. Proposed bills in both Oregon and Maryland were defeated. But within the last two years, they’ve turned their attention to city and county regulations.

In Baltimore, a law passed by the city council required pregnancy centers to post signs in English and Spanish saying they don’t refer for abortion or birth control. But in a Jan. 28 ruling, a federal judge declared the law “unenforceable,” saying it was the provider’s responsibility, not the government’s, to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth control methods.

Although the decision, which is being appealed, is considered an important victory for pregnancy centers, it doesn’t end the matter, said Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), which provides legal counsel and training to 1,200-plus crisis pregnancy centers nationwide. “It’s the only precedent out there right now, but it’s in the Fourth Circuit and not binding on other circuits.”

Restrictive legislation

Meanwhile, an even more restrictive law was passed March 2 in New York City, where more than 41% of pregnancies end in abortion. A similar, but even more restrictive law in Washington failed to pass the state House on March 7.

New York City’s law requires pregnancy resource centers to post statements in their buildings, on websites and in all advertising and literature saying they don’t provide abortions, emergency contraception or prenatal care. Centers also have to state whether their services are under the supervision of a licensed medical provider.

A similar measure in Austin, Texas, grants an exemption to centers that operate as medical clinics. All pregnancy centers in that city have been upgraded to that status.

Peggy Hartshorn

Hartshorn said more than 20 centers, most of them Heartbeat affiliates, would fall under the New York City law. Among them is Pregnancy Help in Manhattan. Legatus member Veronique Monier, chair of the center’s board, said Pregnancy Help is already very transparent about the services it provides — including pregnancy tests and information on abortion procedures and pregnancy options.

“We listen to clients and we present them the different options,” Monier said. “People all around these women tell them they have only one option, which is abortion. We just open the options for them. We show them they have a real choice to make.”

The current attacks will ultimately strengthen pregnancy centers, Hartshorn said. Wherever they occur, she said, “we’re there on the ground trying to help and support our pregnancy centers. We’re also trying to prepare them by making sure they’re complying with all laws and regulations — local, state and national — so they’re as strong as they can possibly be and not vulnerable to attack.”

Proactive measures

Heartbeat is also trying to be proactive by letting legislators know about the good that pregnancy centers are doing in their communities. Through the Babies Go to Congress program, Heartbeat takes mothers, babies and pregnancy center directors to visit legislators in state capitals and Washington, D.C.

“We try to focus on the real benefit to maternal and child health provided in the community at no cost to the taxpayer,” Hartshorn said.

Michele BachmannRep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), mother of five and foster mother of 23, received such a visit from a Heartbeat delegation in January. Her staff then posted photos of the event on Bachmann’s Facebook page and website.

Bachmann told Legatus Magazine that pregnancy resource centers offer the foremost alternative to Planned Parenthood.

“Pregnancy centers do not have to provide abortions, contraception or make referrals for these services,” she said. “They simply are not the same type of facility as a Planned Parenthood-style facility and do not have any obligation to act like one.” Furthermore, she added, “pregnancy centers largely operate without tax money and simply provide a choice to women. We should question, ‘Why would the abortion advocates be against choice?’”

Another strategy effectively countering the abortion lobby’s attacks on pregnancy centers is being championed by Kathleen Eaton, founder and CEO of Birth Choice Health Clinics.

A member of Legatus’ Orange Coast Chapter, Eaton has developed a pro-life medical model that she says can “go nose-to-nose with Planned Parenthood,” which offers a range of women’s health services and is also the nation’s No. 1 abortion provider.

In Southern California where Birth Choice operates six full-service clinics, Eaton said pro-abortion groups have gone after pregnancy resource centers, but not her facilities — even though Birth Choice doesn’t provide abortion and contraception. She believes this is because her facilities are licensed community medical clinics subject to state regulations, and as such aren’t vulnerable to accusations that they falsely present themselves as clinics.

Birth Choice Clinics will soon open clinics in the Napa Valley and Hollywood. Eaton is also working with a network of Birth Choice clinics in Southern California and Oklahoma, and she’s drawn interest from people wanting to open clinics in several other states.

Eaton encourages pregnancy resource centers to investigate becoming licensed clinics and to raise their level of services. By offering medical services similar to those provided at Planned Parenthood clinics, she said, Birth Choice is reaching sexually active young people and those most likely to consider abortion.

“We can’t overturn Roe v. Wade right now,” Eaton said, “but we can get young people out of Planned Parenthood and into a medical clinic that deals with the whole person.”

Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.

Saving lives every day

The Family Research Council‘s new report says pregnancy centers save lives . . .

Peggy Hartshorn

A woman bound for an abortion in New York City recently agreed to an ultrasound at a pregnancy help center. But even after the baby’s perfectly formed image was revealed on the screen, the mother insisted she was still going to keep her abortion appointment.

The distraught pro-life consultant found herself offering something unique to a pregnant mother, something seemingly nonsensical: “Would you like to hold your baby’s hand? Put your hand here.” With a quizzical look on her face, the woman slowly placed her hand on her womb. To the shock of both mom and the consultant, the baby’s tiny hand, visible on the screen, shot up immediately and touched her mother’s hand! In tears, and finally bonded with her baby, the mother chose life.

Pope John Paul II commended the work of pregnancy help centers in Evangelium Vitae: “Newborn life is also served by centers of assistance and homes or centers where new life receives a welcome. Thanks to the work of such centers many … find new hope and find assistance and support ” (#88).

Since he wrote those words in 1995, the number of pregnancy help centers has at least doubled, with nearly 3,000 in the U.S. and another 2,000 around the world. About 40 years after pioneering centers were founded, the first attempt to quantify and describe their impact has been published by the Family Research Council.

I was involved in the research that resulted in A Passion to Serve, A Vision for Life. Its conclusions are stunning. For example, the facts show that the pregnancy help movement is one of the greatest volunteer movements in American history: 29 out of 30 people involved (about 40,000 people at any one moment) are volunteers.

These volunteers are impacting about 2 million people every year, about 5,500 people per day. Heartbeat-affiliated centers (about half of all those in the U.S.) save at least 2,000 babies every week whose mothers would otherwise have had an abortion. This decreases the annual number of abortions in the U.S. by about 10%.We reduce abortions even further through our post-abortion care and recovery programs. (Nearly half of all abortions are performed on women who remain unhealed after at least one previous abortion.)

If the budgets of help centers and their affiliated groups are added up, they total $200 million per year. Unfortunately, this is still miniscule compared to the goliath Planned Parenthood, which had a $1 billion budget last year.

Research indicates that pregnancy centers enhance maternal and child health by averting the negative consequences of abortion such as incidences of preterm births. Our centers also help avert the mental health effects of abortion, which include elevated risks of depression, substance abuse and suicide. Our diverse pregnancy support and education programs also enhance maternal health and build stronger families.

passion-mugA Passion to Serve highlights many centers and maternity homes, with pictures and inspirational stories of individual and community impact. Heartbeat of Miami, for example, started as part of Heartbeat International’s Urban Initiative to put ultrasound-equipped centers in the areas of greatest need (Miami had 37 abortion clinics and no pregnancy centers with life-saving ultrasound). These clinics, in Hialeah and North Miami (Hispanic and African American communities, respectively) are each saving about 15 babies every day. These ethnic groups are only about 24% of the U.S. population but, targeted by abortionists, they suffer 56% of all abortions.

At a time when our centers are under increasing attack, with harassment laws already passed against us in Baltimore and the surrounding county, the findings of this report are crucial for defending our life-saving work. Heartbeat’s center directors, with mothers and babies saved by their staff, have hand-delivered copies of A Passion to Serve to key members of Congress. We’re also taking the report to the states where hostile bills are being introduced.

How do we explain the fact that, for the first time in polling history, more than half of Americans describe themselves as pro-life — and 58% of 18-29-year-olds describe abortion as “morally wrong”? It’s certainly the work of the Holy Spirit!

Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, in an editorial soon after this year’s March for Life, twice singles out our centers as change agents: “Thousands of pregnancy centers, many of which now offer high resolution sonograms, not around in 1973, along with the unwavering commitment of pro-lifers are winning a new generation to their view.”

Peggy Hartshorn, Ph.D. is president of Heartbeat International, a member of Legatus’ Board of Governors and chairperson of its Pro-Life Awards Committee. A copy of A Passion to Serve is available by clicking here.