According to the Weekly Standard‘s Terry Eastland, the bill introduced by Senate Democrats to effectively overturn the Hobby Lobby verdict in fact sweeps far more widely and presents a serious threat to freedom of conscience. He makes two key points.
In the fist place, the new bill simply says that employers may not deny coverage of a health care service mandated by federal law. As Eastland points out, this means that if the federal government later decides to include abortion as a health care service, then, if the Senate Democrats’ bill is passed, no employer could opt out of having to provide it. Here’s Eastland:
S 2578 applies to employers in general, forcing them to comply with the contraceptive mandate even if they have religious objections to any part of it. That would “negate” Hobby Lobby, but the bill goes much further. Employers would also have to comply with all present and future mandates, not just the one for contraception, since it would be unlawful for an employer “to deny coverage of a specific health care item or service” required under a federal statute or regulation. Were the government to add abortion to the list of “preventive services,” for example, no employer would have legal grounds to object.
In the second place, according to Eastland, the Senate bill makes no distinction between religious and non-religious employers. As a result, under its provisions, not even a Church could refuse to provide coverage inconsistent with its teaching. Catholics, of course, have complained that the exemptions from the HHS mandates are too narrow. But this bill could eliminate even those exemptions. Again, here’s Eastland’s argument:
One might think religious institutions and religious nonprofits would be unaffected by S 2578. But the bill must be read closely. Both the exemption from the mandate for the former and the accommodation for the latter are provided for through regulation; neither would survive the regulatory change this bill contemplates. All employers would be treated the same—no exemption or accommodation for any, even churches.
That the Democrats would put forth such a bill reminds us once again of what Fr. Francis Canavan once called “the pluralist game.” The arguments so often made by liberals about pluralism and respect for differences were made when conservative traditionalists controlled the institutions of legal and social power. Now that liberals have the power, they do not intend to abide by the principles they promoted while they were on the way to getting power.