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Perform abortions, or else

The secular Inquisition of the American Left

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at a news conference in Washington, D.C. Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

Perform abortions, or else
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According to a blockbuster story at the National Catholic Register, the Biden administration’s Health and Human Services agency is planning a new rule “to mandate health care providers comply with abortion and gender-transition agendas.” The substance of that statement is distressing enough. But a closer look reveals a demand we are beginning to see more frequently from American progressives, working through either law or regulations issued by the administrative state. The demand is that any new or reformulated government regulation must contain no religious freedom exceptions.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was adopted a generation ago, in 1993. Since then, the American Left shifted from being part of a consensus in favor of the law—it passed Congress nearly unanimously and was signed by President Clinton—to actively opposing religious liberty. What happened? Over time, it became apparent that religious liberty was an impediment to the Left’s ambition to reshape American morality. Over time, many contemporary books, essays, and media reports began to refer to “religious liberty” in scare quotes, viewed as an illegitimate concept rather than one of the essential ideas bound up in the constitutional order.

We have seen disrespect for religious liberty in the way people such as Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman have been hounded and pursued as they sought accommodation for their conscientious objection to using their artistry in service to same-sex weddings. This same disregard was displayed with the Obama administration’s attempt to mandate coverage for contraceptive products and abortifacients through earlier Obamacare. Hobby Lobby would have been put out of business (and their workers put out of jobs) had they lost their lawsuit, which went all the way to the Supreme Court. The principle pushed by secularists is that commercial enterprises can have no rights of conscience. Take time to examine that further, and you can see that, according to their theory, if you intend to participate in the modern economy, you must check your beliefs at the door.

The danger has been that the more aggressive purveyors of secular orthodoxy would seek to implement a regulatory regime that could make it impossible for devout Christians to work in healthcare. It is supremely ironic in the sense that the church was a pioneer and builder in the development of hospitals and universities. But the moral progressives cannot tolerate anyone working in the medical field who will not join their revolution.

The totalizing logic of secular orthodoxy has all the subtlety of a steamroller and attributes essentially no dignity or respect to religious belief and conscience. Either one must accept the idea that abortions are a human right and must be performed or promoted by essentially everyone connected to reproduction in the health care system, or you must abandon the practice of medicine. It is not enough that abortion be available. All medical professionals must now participate in providing abortions. That is the demand.

The abortion rights movement wants to establish abortion as a moral good. We understand quite well that once a social norm is established, it is very difficult to reverse it. That means those who intend to resist had better do so upfront—to draw a line that says “this far and no further”—or face a nearly Sisyphean task of rolling stones up mountains. Rulemaking of the type that HHS is pursuing is an attempt to put the church and all devout Christians into a cycle of apparent futility while everyone else stands around and wonders what the fuss is about.

It will be interesting to see if there are many American liberals who have enough discomfort about abortion (and some of the strange things going on with sex and gender) to resist the coercion of dissenters, even if they aren’t willing to dissent themselves. Indeed, the same is true of many in the vast American middle. It is vitally important to continue explaining the danger to the consciences of men and women who work in healthcare. They serve because of their great desire and skill for caring for their fellow human beings. It is critical to ensure that rules and regulations that run roughshod over faith and conscience are not permitted to pass into law via administrative fiat.

Those who push the agenda of the new secular orthodoxy should have to try to pass laws through the democratic action of Congress in full view of their fellow citizens, rather than relying on the brute force of the administrative state to do their dirty work.

Hunter Baker

Hunter Baker serves as dean of arts and sciences and professor of political science at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. He is a research fellow of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the author of three books (The End of Secularism, Political Thought: A Student's Guide, and The System Has a Soul).

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