No healthcare policy has been as controversial in recent years as the Affordable Care Act, and one of its most contentious aspects is the “contraception mandate,” requiring employers to provide no-cost birth control to employees. Employers with a religious or moral objection to contraception have claimed it is a violation of their religious freedom to force them to cover certain contraceptive methods in their insurance plans—an objection that was vindicated by the Supreme Court in the controversial Hobby Lobby decision.
Central to the debate was the claim that the mandate didn’t just violate the rights of religious employers, but also of religious individuals by forcing them to take part in insurance plans that covered contraceptives. “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” charged the New York Archbishop, Timothy Dolan, who spoke for the Catholic Church at the time as the head of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
The Catholic Church was first out of the gate in criticizing the mandate, claiming that it was an affront to Catholics because of the church’s official prohibition on contraception. This charge was echoed by Catholic pundits, which helped stoke the controversy and the widespread perception that Catholics opposed the measure. Within months, leaders of conservative-leaning Christian groups like the National Association of Evangelicals also joined in the criticism, pressing for faith-based institutions like hospitals and universities to be exempted from the mandate, like houses of worship already were.