The Supreme Court Has Ruled. Now What?
By Susan E. Wills,
July 6, 2012
The U.S. Supreme Court's long-awaited ruling on two key
provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was issued June 28. Few
could have anticipated the outcome in National Federation of
v. Sebelius. The Court upheld the constitutionality of requiring
individuals to enroll in a health plan—the linchpin of the ACA. Writing
for the Court, Chief Justice Roberts upheld
that requirement as a lawful exercise of Congress's constitutional
Since the ruling was announced, it has been all but
impossible to turn on the television or radio or go online without
reporter, pundit, expert, talk show host or caller raise some question
the Court's decision: It's all guesswork wrapped in speculation inside a
The Chief Justice's rationale for upholding ACA's individual
mandate is of less immediate concern than the law's serious deficiencies
religious liberty and rights of conscience.
Here is a brief reminder of what's at stake:
Under the Act's mandate for including "preventive services"
in most health plans, HHS and two other federal agencies are requiring
most employers, including
Catholic and private organizations, to
fund and facilitate sterilization, contraceptives and abortifacients
their conscience. Individuals with a
conscientious objection to such coverage are similarly impacted. To
date about two dozen lawsuits have been filed to challenge the
religious liberty that this rule creates -- and none of these suits is
by the Court's decision to uphold two other specific provisions of the
ACA allows for the direct funding of abortion through $11 billion
that the Act allocated for community health centers, by an avenue that
the usual appropriations bills and hence evaded the Hyde amendment
Unless a state enacts "opt out" legislation, all individuals
purchasing a plan that includes abortion coverage are required to pay a
separate premium to cover the cost of other people's abortions. Under
all but one plan on each exchange may cover elective abortions, and
lower-income enrollees may receive tax credit subsidies to purchase
plans. To date, less than one-third of
the states have enacted such opt-out laws.
ACA fails to prevent governmental bodies under the Act from
violating the conscience right of providers, businesses, health insurers
enrollees who refuse to be involved in abortion.
And there are other manifestations of ACA's abandonment of
longstanding federal policies on conscience rights. Recall the discovery
summer that HHS had given initial approval to at least three state
"high risk" insurance pools that would have allowed federal funding for
coverage. This approval was subsequently rescinded by HHS only after
protest. ACA reportedly contains over 1,000 instances where HHS "shall"
"may" take some regulatory action or where it is empowered to
Corrective legislation—the "Respect for Rights of Conscience
Act" (H.R. 1179, S. 1467) and the Protect Life Act (H.R. 358, S.
been introduced in Congress, and H.R. 358 has already passed in the
Learn more about these bills at www.nchla.org
In his homily at the July 4th Closing Mass of the
Fortnight for Freedom, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, exhorted
Catholics, Christians and people of good will: "We live in a time that
calls for sentinels and public witness. … You
and I are responsible for this moment. Today. Now. We
need to 'speak out,' not only for religious liberty and the ideals of
nation we love, but for the sacredness of life and the dignity of the
person – in other words, for the truth of what it means to be made in
and likeness of God." So let's get to work!
Susan Wills is
Assistant Director for Education & Outreach, United States
Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. To learn more
Catholic bishops' activities on conscience protection, visit www.usccb.org/conscience.