By Kevin J. Jones
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has pledged to overturn the HHS contraception mandate that he says takes “particular aim” at Catholics.
“I stand with the Catholic bishops and all religious organizations in their strenuous objection to this liberty- and conscience-stifling regulation,” Romney wrote in a Feb. 3 Washington Examiner column titled “President Obama vs. religious liberty”
If elected president, the former Massachusetts governor said, he would eliminate the mandate “on day one.”
“Such rules don’t belong in the America that I believe in.”
The mandate, announced on Jan. 20, requires employers to provide insurance coverage for FDA-approved sterilization procedures and contraceptive drugs, including some abortifacient drugs. The Department of Health and Human Services classified the procedures and drugs as “preventive care.”
The religious exemption for the mandate would not cover most Catholic hospitals, universities, and charitable organizations, despite Catholic teaching that the use of these procedures and drugs is sinful and objectively immoral.
Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that religious liberty is “facing the most serious assault in generations” from “liberalism itself.”
He charged that the rule is “taking particular aim at Roman Catholics.”
“The Obama administration is forcing religious institutions to choose between violating their conscience or dropping health care coverage for their employees, effectively destroying their ability to carry on their work.”
Romney incorporated his pledge against the mandate into his general position against the 2010 health care legislation, which opponents call “Obamacare.” He said he is committed to overturning it “root and branch” and will issue an executive order telling his Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue a waiver from its requirements to all U.S. states.
However, his column’s dominant focus remained religious liberty.
Although liberals and conservatives have defended the rights of religious minorities in the past, Romney charged, that devotion to religious freedom “goes out the window” for “the agenda of the left-wing of the Democratic Party.” He linked the mandate to abortion on demand and opposition to abstinence education.
“They would force Catholics and others who have beliefs rooted in their faith to sacrifice the teachings of their faith to the mandate of federal bureaucrats,” Romney said.
He also criticized the Obama administration’s 12-month extension for religious groups to comply with the mandate, calling it “a clumsy attempt to push this matter past this year’s presidential election.”
“The America I believe in is governed by the U.S. Constitution and I will not hesitate to use the powers of the presidency to protect religious liberty,” Romney stated.
All four leading Republican presidential candidates have opposed the mandate.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a convert to Catholicism, charged that the mandate is part of a “war against Christianity.” During his campaign in Florida, ahead of the state primary, he pledged to overturn all “anti-religious” federal policies on his first day in office.
At a Jan. 31 campaign stop in Colorado, Catholic and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said the mandate makes people act against their faith.
“Barack Obama and Kathleen Sebelius said ‘Too bad. If it goes against what you believe, then you believe the wrong things,’” Santorum said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can expect.”
In an October statement on his website, Texas Congressman Ron Paul said the mandate “violates the conscience of millions of pro-life Americans.” He said he views the “regulatory overstep” as “payback to Planned Parenthood and big pharmaceutical companies for their support of Obamacare.”