(CNSNews.com) – Four pro-life Michigan residents have thrown yet another constitutional challenge onto the pile of claims that have emerged since legal wrangling over the health-care reform law began last week.
The plaintiffs, represented by the Thomas More Law Center, filed suit last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, saying their First Amendment rights are being violated because, under the new law, they will be obliged to buy insurance that funds abortions, and that special tax carve-outs for union members discriminate against others for not sharing the same political beliefs.
The lawsuit alleges that the pro-lifers are being forced to contribute to the funding of abortion, which, according to their deeply held religious beliefs and convictions, “is a grave moral disorder since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being,” the complaint reads.
Robert Muise, senior trial counsel for the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based legal group, said the Health Care Reform Act violates the fundamental rights of conscience and free exercise of religion of pro-lifers -- rights protected by the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment, which bars Congress from creating any law “prohibiting the free exercise” of a particular religion.
In order to secure the votes of a number of pro-life House Democrats led by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), President Obama signed an executive order last week clarifying that no provision in the bill should allow for tax dollars to be used on abortions. He clarified that the language of the Hyde Amendment, which is attached to appropriations bills to keep tax dollars from funding abortions, should also apply to this bill.
However, both pro-life advocates and abortion advocates point out that a presidential order cannot override a statute and that President Obama could at any time rescind his order – which the president of Planned Parenthood referred to as nothing more than a “symbolic gesture.”
Muise explained to CNSNews.com that his plaintiffs shared that his clients share the view that the language of the health-care bill was “written expressly to circumvent Hyde” – a reference to the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortion under most circumstances.
The four plaintiffs are unhappy with more than just the potential to pay for abortions; they say they are also not receiving equal protection under the law per the Fifth Amendment.
In the complaint, Muise points out that the law provides exemptions to religious groups who oppose some of the trappings of modern health care, but offers no such exemption for their abortion concern.
Additionally, they say they were denied equal protection when congressional leadership allegedly modified tax provisions in the bill to keep union members from being hit with them.
“Through the enforcement of the Health Care Reform Act, certain organizations, specifically including certain unions, will not be taxed on their health care plans because these because these organizations share the same political views of Defendants and of those currently in power in Congress. TMLC, which does not share these same political views, will be discriminated against in the enforcement of the Health Care Reform Act in that its employees will be taxed for the health care coverage provided by TMLC.”
The Senate-passed health care reform bill contained a steep excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” or high-value insurance plans, but the House of Representatives reportedly disliked it because it would hit many union members whose organizations had bargained for better benefits instead of increased wages. After passing the bill, they passed a package of fixes that shrank the number of plans that would be charged by the surtax.
Those issues add to a growing number of constitutional challenges.
More than a dozen state attorneys general have filed suit claiming that the health care reform bill oversteps the enumerated powers of the federal government and encroaches on the states. This suit and others also say the bill oversteps the Article I power to regulate interstate commerce under the Commerce Clause; and another suit brought in federal district for the District of Columbia that says the law violates the Fifth Amendment by forcing people to pay for medical insurance for the public good, without remittance.
Muise told CNSNews.com he had not seen a bill with so many potential violations of constitutional rights and protections.
“They worked really hard on this one,” he said. “They say an ass is a horse made by committee. This is worse than that. It’s just a power grab.”
CNSNews.com previously reported that, when asked about the constitutionality of the bill, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said the courts could determine those issues later. “(I) can assure everyone that if anything in this bill is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court will weigh in,” she said just two days before the bill passed the Senate.
Muise, however, took issue with that stance, explaining that as a Marine, he took an oath to defend the Constitution, as did members of Congress.
“If you put something in there knowingly that was unconstitutional,” he said, “I would have a real problem with that.”
The suit, which was filed March 23 in federal district court in Detroit, names President Obama, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as defendants.