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So it begins…. by Stephen White

So it begins…

Starting tomorrow, August 1, 2012, by mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services, the great majority of new or renewed health insurance plans in America will be required by law to cover sterilization procedures and contraceptives, including the abortifacient “morning after pill,” without cost-sharing by the insured.

Don’t be surprised if almost no one marks the occasion.

These new regulations, like many elements of Obamacare, will not be implemented in a great flood of change, but gradually and in stages. Most people won’t be signing up for a brand new insurance plan tomorrow, or the next day. Those whose current plans are renewed annually won’t fall under the new requirements until the next “plan year” begins—a date that will vary from plan to plan.

A few insurance plans—those that were written before Obamacare passed and which have remained virtually unchanged since then—will be “grandfathered” under the new rules, and exempt from the mandate (so long as they continue to remain unchanged.)

Religious non-profit organizations who don’t fit the tragically narrow definition of “religious employer” set forth by HHS can apply for “safe harbor,” which means the government knows you’re not complying, but promises not to come after you until August 1, 2013. Some are already looking to the courts for relief.

Meanwhile, the infamous “accommodation” remains nowhere to be seen. HHS has collected comments on the “proposed final rule” (i.e., the “accommodation”) that would (might) change the current “final rule” (i.e. the odious mandate.) It’s a safe bet that we won’t hear boo from the administration until well after the November election. By that point the President will be a lame duck (with no incentive to alter the mandate) or safely reelected (with no incentive to alter the mandate.)

The President is simply running out the clock, and there’s very little the opposition can do.

No, tomorrow will not be remembered as a momentous day. There will be no dramatic confrontations, no protestors being carted off to jail, no picket lines, probably not even a headline. It will be a quiet day that goes mostly unremarked. For most of us, tomorrow will be just another Wednesday.

But make no mistake, on August 1 the gears of federal bureaucracy will engage and slowly, slowly, the immense weight of government coercion will fall full upon the shoulders of many faithful Americans. Decisions will have to be made. Not all at once, but at a thousand desks in a thousand offices in a thousand cities, the choice will be faced: do I comply, or do I hold firm?

As you go about your usual Wednesday routine, stop for a moment and say a prayer for those who will face this decision. Within the year, the choice will be made by countless employers forced to decide between their religious convictions and the provision of employee health benefits. Pray, too, for those employees who will lose their health coverage because their employers refuse to betray their consciences.

And pray for our country. Pray for this great nation of ours, where our own government has declared it to be intolerable that the free choice to contracept should entail paying even a single cent toward the cost of that choice, and would sooner roll back the Bill of Rights than miss out on the chance to force religious employers to subsidize sex without “consequences.”

As you go about your day tomorrow, remember this also: 98 days from now we will have a national referendum on the last four years—on the chronically flagging economy, on Obamacare, on religious liberty, and now, it seems, on the nature of marriage, too.

On November 6, roughly 125 million Americans will go to the polls. Among them will be some 30-35 million Catholics. Think about that: better than 1 in 4 American voters is Catholic. August 1 may be just another Wednesday, but for those who believe more government and less liberty is not what the common good demands, there is a chance to make November 6 a Tuesday to remember.

Let’s all pray that we get it right.

Stephen P. White is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC and coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society. The views expressed here are his own.

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