Last month, the United States Department of Health and Human Services announced a rule requiring employers, including Catholic institutions, to provide abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception in their employee health plans, free of charge.
I joined more than 175 bishops in urging the faithful in their dioceses to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse this rule. The bishops’ were joined in their opposition to this rule by leaders from many different faiths and politicians and opinion leaders all across the political spectrum.
The broad range of opposition to the HHS rule did not stem from a unified belief in the intrinsic evil of contraception, abortion or sterilization – far from it. Rather, Americans of varied political and religious belief saw the rule as inimical to rights of conscience and to the freedom of religion, enshrined as the first freedom in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
As a priest and bishop I wish to renew my conviction about the Church’s constant belief that the use of artificial contraception defaces and diminishes the God-intended meaning of marriage. It is a serious moral evil which continues to be a source of hurt and unchastity within and outside of marriage, and has been a cause of the devaluation of married love.
Whether sharing the Church’s position on contraception or not, many Americans shared the belief that it is a grave violation of conscience to compel anyone to purchase or provide a service in violation of their religious or moral beliefs and that it is a violation of the freedom of religion for the state to determine which religious institutions are deserving of that freedom.
In response to this general outcry, President Obama announced last Friday, what the White House termed an “accommodation”. Under this accommodation, the state would still determine which religious institutions were eligible to fully exercise their religious and conscience rights by declining the coverage. Those religious institutions not passing the test must still include abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception in their employee health plans. However, the accommodation requires the insurance company itself to pay for such coverage rather than the religious employer.
Commenting on this new mandate, Congressman Dan Lipinski (D – Ill.) said:
“All the facts indicate that the ‘new’ mandate is the same as the ‘old’ mandate. New words, same policy. . .
“. . . So religious organizations have to provide health care coverage from insurance companies that are required to provide abortion drugs, sterilization, and contraception. What changed? This is the same policy. . .
“. . .To say that the insurer and not the employer is required to provide the coverage is a fiction. There is no accommodation for religious liberty.”
Furthermore — the new rule provides no relief for private individuals or companies, all of which must purchase or provide health coverage including abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception or face heavy fines.
This latter point was highlighted by the leadership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a letter reacting to the mandate. The letter objects to any rule “forcing private health plans — nationwide, by the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen—to cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion.” And they recognize that this would impose a violation of conscience on many beyond religious employers:
“[T]he mandate would impose a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of those who consider such ‘services’ immoral: insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage.”
The bishops conclude that “The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.”
One way the bishops support rescinding this mandate is by passing the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. I join my brother bishops in renewing “our call to the Catholic faithful, and to all our fellow Americans, to join together in this effort to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all.”
Please ask your representative and senators to support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.
The Senate version of the Act is S. 1467 (Blunt – MO). The House bill is H.R. 1179 (Fortenberry – NE).
Senator Claire McCaskill
4141 Pennsylvania Ave., Ste. 101
Kansas City, Missouri 64111
Senator Roy Blunt
911 Main Street, Suite 2224
Kansas City, MO 64105
Rep. Vickie Hartzler (4th District)
1909 North Commercial Street
Harrisonville, MO 64701
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II
101 W. 31 Street
Kansas City, MO 64108
Rep. Sam Graves (6th District)
201 S. 8th Street
St. Joseph, Missouri 64501