Concessions for Conscientious Objectors in the Obamacare Law

The health care industry legislation that became law today (of which I addressed some of the implications for tax resisters ) includes provisions to accommodate the conscientious objection of people opposed to abortion and of Amish groups who have traditionally taught that the purchase of insurance betrays a mistrust of divine providence.

Amish in good standing will be exempt from the law’s requirement that all Americans have health insurance, which is to say that they will not be subject to the federal excise tax on uninsured individuals. Health insurance plans will not be required to cover abortions — indeed, states may prohibit abortion-providing plans in their “exchanges” — and those that do cover abortion will have to do so via a separately-funded option that cannot be paid for via the various government subsidies in the law. President Obama recently emphasized these abortion restrictions by issuing an executive order that reconfirmed the ban on using taxpayer money to pay for abortions.

But neither the orthodox Amish nor the anti-abortion activists seem pleased with these concessions.

Gary Kauffman of The Goshen News interviewed David Yoder, who monitors national law for the Old Order Amish. He points out that while there is an exception written into the law that shields individual Amish people from having to be covered by health insurance, there is no such shield for Amish employers, even Amish employers of Amish employees, who will be required to provide health insurance for those they hire. “It’s a huge concern for all Amish,” Yoder said. “It’s definitely not something we could comply with.” Yoder also worries that as government-mandated corporate health plans insinuate into the Amish community, the cooperative neighbors-helping-neighbors form of mutual aid that takes the place of health insurance among the Amish will degrade, and, along with it, the quality of health: “Even if there is an exemption for us, health care quality will still go down. Maybe not immediately, but in five or ten years.”

Meanwhile, many anti-abortion activists aren’t at all convinced that the many safeguards in the law will actually prevent taxpayer money from subsidizing abortions, or enable people who don’t want to fund abortions to find both legally-compliant and conscientiously-acceptable health insurance:

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said the idea of tax resistance has been mentioned in response to concerns about unjust wars.

“This bill says most of the plans getting federal subsidies make every enrollee pay a separate payment solely for people’s abortions,” he said. “Some people have said what an opportunity for a movement of resistance for people of faith who have these plans or are saddled with one; to refuse to pay that particular fee. If that is the only option we have, that is an interesting idea for Catholics and Protestants to focus on.”

It is a remarkable contrast to this how much the concerns of conscientious objectors to military taxation are ignored by lawmakers. People who don’t want to pay the salaries of torturers, or who have conscientious qualms about building weapons of indiscriminate slaughter, can be and are ignored. Convocations of Catholic bishops don’t hold press conferences on their behalf, legislators don’t hold their votes back on a pretense of standing up for them.

The official word from the courts is that it would be too onerous for the government to carve out an exception for such conscientious objectors, though this recent bill and others show that Congress is perfectly capable of carving a little here and a little there when that’s what it takes to get the job done.

But, as with this recent bill, even were Congress to make some sort of concessions to conscientious objectors to military taxation, these would be unlikely to go far enough to be satisfying to any but those who were eagerly looking for an excuse to put their consciences down and get on with other business.