Last month, the Obama Administration approved important regulations under the Affordable Care Act requiring health plans to cover contraceptive services. Never one to miss an opportunity to falsely claim something related the the ACA violates the Constitution, Speaker John Boehner (R) said today that these regulations are unconstitutional:
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that the mandate that health insurance plans provide contraceptives at no charge “violates our Constitution,” because it forces Catholics to violate their consciences.
“I think this mandate violates our Constitution,” Boehner said during his weekly news conference Thursday.
Boehner said that there was “a lot of opposition” to the new regulations enacted by the Department of Health and Human Services, because it forces Catholics to provide access to contraceptives despite the fact that the Catholic Church holds that contraception is immoral.
It’s important to note that the regulation exempts churches that provide health insurance to their employees and nothing in the regulations require health providers with religious objections to proscribe contraception. Additionally, it’s not exactly true that “Catholics” believe what Boehner claims they believe. Although the conservative United States Conference of Catholic Bishops does indeed object to these regulations, 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use contraception.
Boehner’s constitutional analysis, moreover, is completely absurd. There is nothing in the Constitution saying that a person does not have to comply with the law simply because they object to it — if this were actually true, anyone could immunize themselves from paying taxes simply by claiming a moral objection to doing so. Nor does the Constitution allow people to violate the law simply because they have a religious objection to it.
The seminal Supreme Court opinion establishing this point was written by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia — who, coincidentally, is Catholic. Scalia explains that “the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a ‘valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).’” In other words, so long as a law does not single out Catholics (or any other faith) for inferior treatment, the law applies universally to everyone.
Ultimately, however, it is not surprising that Boehner is once again mouthing off about the Constitution without understanding what it actually says. The Speaker, of course, is a proud supporter of the lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that a leading conservative judge that the case against the ACA has no basis “in either the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent.”