Religious Freedom and Healthcare Reform

October 16, 2012

On March 22, 2012, the Religious Freedom Project convened four of the nation’s top first amendment scholars to debate a highly contentious and vitally important issue: the religious freedom implications of what has become known as the “HHS mandate.” That mandate—part of the Obama administration’s signature legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010—requires that most insurance plans cover certain services that are styled “preventive healthcare.” They include immunizations, screenings for infants and children, and breastfeeding support. More controversially, the HHS mandate requires coverage for all “Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods [and] sterilization procedures …for all women with reproductive capacity.” Some of the approved contraceptive methods can induce abortions. This report is an edited transcript of respectful but vigorous debate between Helen M. Alvaré, Martin Lederman, Michael McConnell, and Melissa Rogers on key questions of religious freedom and First Amendment application.
The debate focused on key questions arising from these two issues. What does the HHS mandate mean for the nation’s historic commitment to religious freedom? Given that some religions teach that one or more of these services are morally disordered and deeply sinful, what accommodations, if any, should be made for them or their adherents? If exemptions from the mandate are to be granted, what kinds of religious entities or individuals should be exempted? How does the First Amendment to the Constitution apply to this debate? Do statutes like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act require accommodations for religious objectors to the HHS mandate?

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