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March 9, 2012

A Threat to The First Amendment

Joe Charlebois

Rush Limbaugh upset a great number of people this past week when he used the terms “slut” and “prostitute” to describe Sandra Fluke’s personal life and her demand that Georgetown University provide – through the student healthcare plan – contraceptives free of charge to all women enrolled in the plan.


Mr. Limbaugh’s poorly chosen words were more symbolic of his views on society as a whole as well as his response to cries for “free” contraceptives as representative of how our society has readily accepted the new “norm” of promiscuity and entitlement rather than a direct attack on Ms. Fluke.


Ms. Fluke who testified before the House Oversight Committee did little to address the fact that religious organizations are entitled to First Amendment rights. To the contrary, Ms. Fluke’s testimony essentially called for the federal government to use the force of law to force institutions such as Georgetown University – a university operated by Jesuit brothers a Catholic order – to comply with legislation that is contradictory to their moral stance on abortifacients and contraceptives thus denying them their First Amendment rights.


Ms. Fluke used her platform to testify on behalf of women that suffer from certain conditions such as endometriosis and ovarian cysts, conditions that in most cases – even those health plans run by Catholic organizations – do allow for as treatments.


Ms. Fluke, who is past president of the Law Students for Reproductive Justice at Georgetown, is disingenuous when she hides behind the reasons for forcing religious institutions to pay for contraceptives.


Using anecdotal testimony Ms. Fluke’s own words undermine her case. For example, Ms. Fluke claims that there is a young woman suffering from endometriosis who was denied treatment. She admits that this student never underwent an exam to verify a diagnosis of endometriosis. Without a confirmed diagnosis of any disorder, the insurance company was bound by the terms of the contract with the Catholic-run institution to deny her coverage under the healthcare plan.


When medical exceptions need to be made, doctors routinely contact insurance companies on behalf of the patient. If Ms. Jane Doe didn’t have her physician plead on her behalf, shame on her. Endometriosis can be a painful and devastating disease that can have permanent ramifications if it remains untreated.


The real mission of Ms. Fluke is not to get contraceptive use for certain ailments; it is to punish the Roman Catholic Church for its stance on birth control. In fact she is not just a random law student at Georgetown on a crusade, but rather a radical left wing operative invested in pushing agendas that are clearly out of the main stream.


In fact to prove this point it should be noted that Ms. Fluke published along with Karen Hu an article in The Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law entitled “Employment Discrimination Against LGBTQ Persons.”  This was published in the journal's 2011 Annual Review. It addressed and mandates that insurers must provide for “gender reassignment” surgeries for those wishing to have a sex-change operation, claiming that to not provide such surgeries and treatment would be discriminatory.


Ms. Fluke and willing legislators are pushing their own agenda in an attempt to change the subject. They purposely ignore the fact that no religious organization, politician or pundit is stating that these women aren’t entitled to procure treatment including contraceptives.


Rather the question that remains is: “Can the unchecked power of the federal government be allowed to ignore the First Amendment and mandate that a religious organization provide contraceptives, either through their own employee/student based healthcare plans, or can the unchecked power use its authority to transfer the costs of such treatments from the religious organization to the healthcare administrator?” This also begs the question, “If a religious organization is self-insured would they still be exempt?”


It wasn’t long ago that the right and moral thing to do was directed by the family, the church and community. In the past five decades the role of government and more specifically the federal government has taken over the role of the family, the community and the church.


According to the Congressional Budget Office, there are an ever increasing number of recipients of welfare, food stamps, unemployment insurance and Medicaid. There was a time that Americans would be ashamed to receive a hand-out. But that memory has been replaced by “you owe it to me!”


The Roman Catholic Church has played a crucial role in providing healthcare and community support for those in need for centuries. In fact in the United States, the Catholic Health Association of the United States currently boasts of 619 member facilities. Their stated mission reflects that role. The organization looks to “promote wellness for all persons and communities, with special attention to our neighbors who are poor, underserved, and most vulnerable. By our service, we strive to transform hurt into hope.”


These hospitals are now threatened by the existence of rules buried in the thousands of pages of Obamacare and the subsequent enforcement by the Department of Health and Human Services. If these hospitals must give up the ability to treat the poor and indigent by standing by their moral conscience, then our healthcare system as we know it remains threatened.


Catholic hospitals account for nearly 13% of all hospitals in the United States with nearly 15% of the overall number of beds. In 2010 Catholic hospitals admitted 5.5 million patients. It can’t be overstated how great an impact these facilities have had on the mission of healthcare over the years.


If the Department of Health and Human Services “wins” this case against religious institutions and the First Amendment, then all of America will lose. This country can ill afford any more attacks against the Constitution.


We cannot allow policy and legislation to be shaped by anecdotes and falsehoods posing as crises.


Our future depends on it.


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