The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), also known as “Obamacare,” has a lot of mandates in it. The “individual mandate” that requires every American to purchase health insurance is probably the best known and most talked about. But there’s another, much more pernicious mandate in it that many Americans still are not aware of: A mandate regarding drugs that cause abortion.

It’s pretty simple, actually. PPACA included an amendment dealing with preventive care for women. Senator Mikulski of Maryland proposed the amendment, stating from the floor of the Senate, “This amendment is strictly concerned with ensuring that women get the kind of preventive screenings and treatments they may need to prevent diseases particular to women such as breast cancer and cervical cancer. There is neither legislative intent nor legislative language that would cover abortion under this amendment, nor would abortion coverage be mandated in any way by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

So what’s the problem? The amendment left the definition of ‘preventive treatment’ solely to the Department of Health and Human Services. They asked the Institute of Medicine for input as to what should be considered preventive treatment. The IOM asked Planned Parenthood and others for input. And what do you think they decided? To include contraception—including abortion-inducing “emergency contraception”—as part of the government’s definition of preventive care.

As a result, by this coming August, every insurance provider will be required to cover all forms of FDA-approved contraception—including abortifacients—and every employer required to provide insurance under Obamacare will be forced to pay for these policies for their employees.

Many of you may be aware that the Catholic Church—who is probably the single greatest pro-life advocate in America—holds that contraception is immoral. We could argue ad nausea whether they are right or wrong. The point is, that’s what they believe. So what is a Catholic CEO or even a Catholic hospital, like St. Vincent’s in Little Rock, supposed to do about this mandate?

The government is going to make them pay for these policies anyway. It does not matter if the institution finds them morally objectionable. It does not matter if the individual policyholder doesn’t want contraception and abortifacient coverage included in their insurance policy. The government is going to make them buy it anyway.

But didn’t HHS create a religious exemption? Yes. If you’re a religiously affiliated non-profit who primarily employees people who share your religious beliefs, primarily serves people who share your religious beliefs, and are primarily purposed with teaching your religious beliefs to others, you don’t have to buy the policies. I don’t know if you noticed, but that’s a pretty narrow exemption. It might mean a Catholic school like Holy Souls in Little Rock will be exempt from buying these policies for its employees. It’s not going to help a hospital like St. Vincent’s, who serves and treats patients regardless of their religious beliefs. It certainly won’t help religious colleges and universities who allow students from all walks of life to attend their classes.

The Department of Health and Human Services has declared that religiously affiliated institutions who are not exempt (e.g. colleges, charities, hospitals, etc.) have until August of 2013 to comply with the mandate. I guess HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is hoping the Pope will change the Church’s position of contraception and abortion between now and then. I wouldn’t count on it.

I’m not Catholic. Maybe you aren’t either. Why should we care about this? Maybe you support contraception. Maybe, even, you are pro-choice. Well, you still should care about this issue.

For the first time in history, the United States government is forcing Americans to purchase something that violates their conscience. Even during times of war, such as World War II, when our nation’s future was in serious jeopardy and the government was drafting millions into the armed services, America still allowed pacifists to file as conscientious objectors. That’s how much respect America, historically, has for a person’s right of conscience. But now they’re essentially telling Catholics all over America that their conscience and their deeply-held religious beliefs do not matter.

If they can violate a Catholic’s right of conscience, they can violate any American’s right of conscience. If they can do it to your Catholic neighbor, they can do it to you. And that should matter to everyone.

Explicitly requiring someone to violate their conscience is simply repulsive. Congress needs to address this issue quickly by amending the PPACA to spell out exactly which services Senator Mikulski intended to cover with her amendment. Otherwise, our government will be setting a truly dangerous precedent.