The recent actions of the Obama’s administration in the health sector seem less an effort to improve the well-being of the American people, and more like something out of George Orwell’s 1984. Apparently following recommendations by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the administration announced this week that insurance plans will henceforth be required to cover contraceptives, which include abortion-inducing drugs such as Plan B and Ella, as well as elective sterilizations.
As a European, I have long admired how America has been able to combine respect for the various moral and religious traditions of its people with a robust pluralistic public order. And it’s precisely for that reason that these heavy-handed mandates, which threaten the very existence of Catholic hospitals and other religious institutions, seem so unwise to me and even un-American.
Of course, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a self-described Catholic, put things in very different terms. In her view, the drugs now to be provided are part of an essential “preventive care” package. “Historic new guidelines that will ensure women receive preventive health services at no additional cost were announced today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” she said.
The HHS release notes that not only contraception methods, but even “contraceptive counselling” is to be covered. The mandate comes after a massive, months-long push by abortion giant Planned Parenthood to establish free birth control for American women, a campaign strongly opposed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. But as the bishops have argued, pregnancy is not a disease; and this is not “preventive health,” as Congressman Jeff Fortenberry said Friday evening just after the House voted on the debt deal. He’s co-author of the Rights of Conscience Act.
Note also the inclusion of “elective” sterilization. Why should American taxpayers be forced to pay for such a “choice”? One has the impression that behind it lies a vague desire to hold down population coupled with a belief that anything anyone wants in the sexual realm should be made as easy as possible.
But in Europe we hear sterilization and remember the curse of sterilization campaigns born from Sir Francis Galton’s idea of Eugenics. In essence, the idea was that a small circle of “superior people” could decide to eliminate those whom they do not believe ought to come into the world. For now, the sterilization is “elective,” but it will deaden consciences to the point that “recommending” or perhaps even “requiring” sterilization will seem only humane. A pity without pietas, a charity without caritas, a terrible altruism that seeks to improve some lives by preventing others.
A half-century after the advent of the pill, the Obama administration on Monday ushered in a change in women’s health care potentially as transformative: coverage of birth control as prevention, with no copays. Since birth control is the most common drug prescribed to women, health plans should make sure it’s readily available, said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Not doing it would be like not covering flu shots,” she observed, apparently oblivious to the moral and religious differences involved.
A big question thus arises: does the Obama administration intend to serve the American people or does it want to manipulate them? Have the anti-life lobbyists replaced the American people? Finally, why is this question not being openly examined in the midst of the current debates on ways to reduce, not increase, federal spending and intrusion in the economy and American society? The artful public statements cannot conceal the fact that this is a raw assertion of power, which will not ultimately be of benefit, even for the Democrats.
Luca Volonté is the president of the European People’s Party group at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
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