There has been an extraordinary backlash to the Obama administration’s recent decree that, under Obamacare, all new private health plans must cover (among many other things) the birth control pill, the morning-after pill, and the abortion drug ella — and must cover them “free of charge” (thereby ensuring higher premiums). But the response has largely been to view this as an unfortunate side effect of Obamacare, as one instance in which Obamacare — or the decrees issued under its authority — may need to be tweaked. In truth, however, this is the essence of Obamacare: centralized power, politicized medicine, and senseless mandates that micromanage the lives of free citizens.

Likewise, the focus has been on Catholic organizations, whose teachings against the use of contraception and abortifacients would have to yield in practice to the teachings of the Obama administration. Such organizations would be banned from even offering — and their employees therefore prevented from freely choosing — health plans that don’t include “complimentary” coverage of birth control pills, morning-after pills, and ella. So much for the Obama administration’s alleged commitment to “choice” in this realm.

But this issue isn’t confined to the liberty of the Catholic Church or even to religious liberty more broadly; it affects the liberty of every American. It isn’t about the freedom to worship; it’s about the freedom to follow one’s own moral convictions, whether those convictions are religiously rooted or not. It’s about whether every American should be at liberty to decide what sort of health insurance he or she wants to buy, or whether Kathleen Sebelius — and hence Obama — should be empowered to decide what sort of health insurance 300 million citizens will be forced to buy.

Not only is the decree issued by Sebelius (Obama’s secretary of Health and Human Services) wrong on at least seven levels, but if the Obama administration were to reverse course and subsequently decree that Catholic and other religious organizations will henceforth be granted an exception, this would merely confirm the politicized nature of the process. It would merely show that such groups have enough clout to secure an exception to the rule.

And the rule is appalling. Why is the federal government telling us what items our health plans have to cover and which of those items should or shouldn’t involve copays? It’s a ludicrous and almost comical overreach of centralized power. The next thing you know, the federal government will be telling us what kinds of light bulbs we have to buy. (You laugh, but it could happen.)

In truth, the problem isn’t really (or at least centrally) that the Obamacare decree would prohibit religious organizations from offering health plans that don’t provide free access to the birth control pill, the morning-after pill, and ella. The problem is that the decree would prohibit all civil associations and private businesses from offering — and therefore all Americans from freely choosing — plans that don’t provide “free” access to such “preventive medicine.” Otherwise stated, it would preclude Americans from choosing plans that are different from those that Sebelius and Obama would choose on their behalf.

As the decree indicates, the Obama administration considers civil associations and private businesses (whether religious or not) to be entities that can, and should, be made to do its bidding. As Yuval Levin writes at National Review Online,

“[W]hat is at issue…is not just the question of religious liberty but the question of non-governmental institutions in a free society. Does civil society consist of a set of institutions that help the government achieve its purposes as [the government] defines them…or does civil society consist of an assortment of efforts by citizens to band together in pursuit of mutual aims and goods as they understand them? Is [civil society] an extension of the state or of the community? In this arena, as in a great many others, the administration is clearly determined to see civil society as merely an extension of the state.”

Levin concludes that “the question on the table is really [about] the basic character of our society.”

Some 175 years before Obamacare, Alexis de Tocqueville expressed the view that freely formed private associations are crucial extensions of the community (not of the state). Perhaps the keenest observer of American society, Tocqueville wrote,

“Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand other kinds, religious, moral, serious….

“…If men living in democratic countries…never acquired the habit of forming associations in ordinary life, civilization itself would be endangered….

“…No sooner does a government attempt to go beyond its political sphere…than it exercises, even unintentionally, an insupportable tyranny….[I]t is never easy to discriminate between its advice and its commands....Governments, therefore, should not be the only active powers; associations ought, in democratic nations, to stand in lieu of those powerful private [aristocratic] individuals whom the equality of conditions has swept away….

“…In democratic countries the science of association is the mother of science; the progress of all the rest depends upon the progress it has made.”

In other words, Obamacare is not only undermining Americans’ liberty directly. It is also endangering the independence of the freely formed associations that unite Americans and serve as the backbone of a vibrant republic — and which also form barriers against excessive governmental power.

We need to repeal Obamacare.

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