HHS tells religious believers to go to hell. The public notices.
The political furor over President Obama's birth-control mandate continues to grow, even among those for whom contraception poses no moral qualms, and one needn't be a theologian to understand why. The country is being exposed to the raw political control that is the core of the Obama health-care plan, and Americans are seeing clearly for the first time how this will violate pluralism and liberty.
In late January the Health and Human Services Department required almost all insurance plans to cover contraceptive and sterilization methods, including the morning-after pill. The decision came after passionate lobbying by religious groups and liberals from the likes of Planned Parenthood, amid government promises of compromise.
In the end, Planned Parenthood won. HHS chose to draw the rule's conscience exceptions for "religious employers" so narrowly that they will not be extended to religious charities, universities, schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and other institutions that oppose contraception as a matter of religious belief.
The Affordable Care Act itself is ambiguous about what counts as a religious organization that deserves conscience protection. Like so much else in the rushed bill, this was left to administrative discretion. What the law does cement is the principle that the government will decide for everyone what "health care" must mean. The entire thrust of ObamaCare is to standardize benefits and how they must be paid for and provided, regardless of individual choices or ethical convictions.
To take a small example: The HHS rule prohibits out-of-pocket costs for birth control, simply because Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's regulators believe no woman should have to pay anything for it. To take a larger example: The Obama Administration's legal defense of the mandate to buy insurance or else pay a penalty is that the mere fact of being alive gives the government the right to regulate all Americans at every point in their lives.
Practicing this kind of compulsion is routine and noncontroversial within Ms. Sebelius's ministry. That may explain why her staff didn't notice that the birth-control rule abridges the First Amendment's protections for religious freedom. Then again, maybe HHS thought the public had become inured to such edicts, which have arrived every few weeks since the Affordable Care Act passed.
Bad call. The decision has roused the Catholic bishops from their health-care naivete, but they've been joined by people of all faiths and even no faith, as it becomes clear that their own deepest moral beliefs may be thrown over eventually. Contraception is the single most prescribed medicine for women between 18 and 44 years old, and nine of 10 insurers and employers already cover it. Yet HHS still decided to rub it in the face of religious hospitals.
Mr. Obama's allies among Catholic liberals are also professing shock—even the Catholic Health Association's Sister Carol Keehan, who lobbied for ObamaCare, and Notre Dame's Father John Jenkins, who invited Mr. Obama to speak on campus in 2009. But if they now claim they were taken for a ride by the secular left, the truth is that they wanted to be deceived in the name of their grander goal of government-enforced equity. The Catholic left was one of ObamaCare's great enablers.
Speaking of scales from the eyes, we're eager to hear from former Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak, who for a brief moment led a faction of pro-life Democrats against ObamaCare in 2010. They surrendered when Mr. Obama gave them the fig leaf of an executive order that will supposedly prevent federal funds from subsidizing abortions. Mr. Stupak is now a lobbyist at the D.C. law firm Venable LLP.
This is also a teaching moment for Mitt Romney, who has joined the calls to defend "the right to worship in the way of our own choice," as he put it in a Colorado speech on Monday. "This is a violation of conscience. We must have a President who is willing to protect America's first right, our right to worship God," he added.
This is fine as far as it goes, but as usual the GOP front-runner is missing the larger policy and moral issue. The HHS diktat isn't something unique to President Obama. It is the political essence of government-run medicine. When politics determines who can or should receive what benefits, and who pays what for it, government will use its force to dictate the outcomes that it wants—either for reasons of cost, or to promote its values, which in this case means that "women's health" trumps religious conscience.
If Mr. Romney can't make the obvious connection between this infringement of American values and all the other infringements that are inherent in government health care, then he needs better political advisers.
The White House is now trying to cauterize the political damage and saying it is open to some "compromise" on its own contraception decision. But the rule is already final. HHS tried to sell it as a compromise when it was announced, and in any case HHS would revive this coercion whenever it is politically convenient some time in Mr. Obama's second term. Religious liberty won't be protected from the entitlement state until ObamaCare is repealed.