Stephen F. Hayes
Kelly Jane Torrance
Jonathan V. Last
Lena Dunham’s NYT Op-Ed on the Obamacare Mandate is Based on Two Falsehoods
Lena Dunham, the HBO celebrity and Democratic activist, had an op-ed in the New York Times over the weekend arguing against a regulation under consideration by the Trump administration. According to a leak, conscientious objectors could opt out of the Obamacare mandate that forces American employers to provide insurance that covers contraceptives and some abortifacients with no copayment.
Dunham is certainly entitled to her own opinion, but her New York Times op-ed is premised on two errors of fact. She writes:
[F]or millions of women living with endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, cystic acne, migraines, uterine abnormalities and a history of ectopic pregnancies, birth control can be a crucial, even lifesaving, medical treatment. While there is no cure for endometriosis, hormonal contraception can control pain and bleeding by stopping or significantly shortening the length of a woman’s period. It helps keep women with the disease happy, healthy and able to work. Considering how little money the government puts into endometriosis research (last year, the National Institutes of Health allocated around $10 million of its $32 billion budget to it), it’s clear that our country already has a dangerous disregard for women with this common condition. But imagine if this disease that affects about one in 10 women of reproductive age were allowed to progress unhindered. Imagine losing these women’s essential contributions to our world because of a treatable illness.
Well, if the Trump administration follows through on its plan to roll back the requirement that insurers cover birth control (revealed in leaked government documents last week), you won’t have to imagine it. The documents outline a chilling proposal that would allow any employer to deny coverage of birth control at any time and for any reason. Women who rely on oral contraception would suddenly be living in a very different reality, one in which some could become disabled as their disease progressed.
It is simply false for Dunham to claim that the draft regulation would “allow any employer to deny coverage of birth control at any time and for any reason.” Pages 119 and 120 of the draft regulation clearly state that the “religious beliefs” or “moral convictions” of conscientious objectors must be “sincerely held.” The draft regulation does not say “any employer” can opt out for “any reason.” Limited-government conservatives would of course prefer a simple repeal of this federal mandate and many others, but that’s not what’s being considered.
As the lawyer who represents the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns that serves the elderly poor and objects to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, recently told reporters: Under the proposed regulation the government would determine whether the religious beliefs and moral convictions are “sincerely held” the “same exact way they determine whether religious or moral objections are made in good faith under lots of different federal statutes and regulations.”
The lawyer, Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund, added that “every day courts engage in analysis to figure out whether someone has a sincere religious belief or somebody’s just trying to dodge military service, or get out of doing something in their work, or if a prisoner is just trying to trick their way into better food rather than having a sincere religious exemption.”
Before the mandate, the vast majority of private insurance plans covered contraceptives, and the federal government spent hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives under Medicaid and the Title X program. Dunham claims that “for women living near or below the poverty line, [the regulation] would be disastrous, jeopardizing their ability to work and provide for their families,” but the regulation wouldn’t affect anyone benefiting from Medicaid or Title X.
According to Gallup, 89 percent of Americans believe birth control is morally acceptable, so we are only talking about a tiny percentage of American employers who might opt out from the mandate. As Politico reported in October 2016, in the two years since the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate was a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “only 52 companies and nonprofit organizations, have told the government they plan to opt out of Obamacare’s requirement to cover birth control because it violates their religious beliefs.” Corporations are not going to state false moral or religious objections to birth control 1) because they could be subject to charges of perjury and 2) because it’s widely believed that birth control subsidies save insurers and employers money.
That brings us to the second false (if implicit) premise of Dunham’s op-ed, which is that Catholics object to use hormonal contraceptives to treat diseases. The first result of a simple Google search would have revealed to Dunham that that’s not true. “Catholic teaching does not oppose the use of hormonal medications—such as those found in chemical contraceptives—for legitimate medical purposes,” reads the website of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops. And as a Supreme Court brief on behalf of Catholic plaintiffs opposed to the contraceptive mandate states: “Consistent with Catholic teaching, in certain circumstances Petitioners’ plans cover products commonly used as contraceptives when prescribed for noncontraceptive, medically necessary purposes.”
If Dunham wants to argue that Catholic nuns should be forced to violate their religious beliefs so that middle- and high-income women don’t have to pay $9 a month for contraception, she has every right to do that. But Dunham and the New York Times should not misrepresent what the Trump administration is actually considering and what Catholics actually believe.
Web Link: http://www.weeklystandard.com/article/2008439