WASHINGTON (BP) – The U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld the 2010 health care law Thursday, dealing a disheartening setback to pro-life and religious liberty advocates who fervently oppose the controversial measure.
With Chief Justice John Roberts casting the deciding vote, the high court announced its affirmation in a 5-4 opinion of what is often labeled as “Obamacare.” Four associate justices – Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – said in their dissent they would have struck down the entire law.
Writing for the majority, Roberts said the “individual mandate,” which requires almost all Americans to buy health insurance, is a valid exercise by Congress of its power to tax. Although Congress does not have the power under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to require the purchase of health insurance, it does have the authority to tax those who do not have such coverage, the court said.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – in combination with subsequent federal rules – not only has elicited widespread opposition because of the “individual mandate” but because of other provisions, such as its federal subsidies for plans that cover abortion and an abortion/contraceptive mandate that critics say violates religious liberty.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), as well as other pro-life and religious freedom organizations, has protested those provisions and others. For instance, the law requires insurance plans in state exchanges to not disclose their abortion coverage until people are enrolled in their plans.
The law mandates all plans cover contraceptives and sterilizations as preventive services without cost to employees. This includes contraceptives, as defined by the federal government, that can cause abortions of tiny embryos. The rule regarding that mandate has a religious exemption critics find woefully inadequate.
Southern Baptist leaders expressed deep disappointment with the opinion.
“It is astonishing that the majority of the justices did not see the bill for what it really is: a blatant violation of the personal freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution and perhaps a mortal blow to the concept of federalism,” ERLC President Richard Land said in a written statement.
In addition to continuing to protest the “abortion/contraceptive mandate” and its insufficient religious exemption, Land said, “Greater government involvement in medical care also means that the sick, elderly and terminally ill will suffer.” He suggested many patients will have to wait longer to receive treatment as the government determines how to allocate resources.
O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, said in a written release, “As I told messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans last week, we will never allow this Administration, or any other, to tell us that we have to provide abortive drugs like morning-after pills. … We will maintain our advocacy on behalf of ministers we are privileged to serve.”
The court did provide a restriction on “Obamacare,” ruling the section expanding Medicaid is unconstitutional in threatening to take away states’ current funding if they refuse to participate.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.)