September 9, 2011
The federal healthcare law enacted
last year requires almost all private health insurance plans to provide
coverage of "preventive care for women" and without a co-pay. Last month,
the Obama Administration announced that among the "preventive care" services
it will mandate are "All Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive
methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for
all women with reproductive capacity."
Even worse, the new policy contains an extremely
narrow and inadequate religious exemption. It covers only a "religious
employer" that has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose,
primarily employs and serves persons who share its religious tenets, and is
a church organization under two narrow provisions of the tax code.
Plans offered by many religious organizations,
including Catholic colleges, universities, hospitals, and charitable
institutions that serve the general public, would be ineligible under these
terms. Some Catholic leaders have even suggested that the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops (USCCB) itself may not qualify under this definition of
In comments submitted to the Department of Health
and Human Services, the general counsel of the USCCB, Anthony Picarello,
strongly urged DHHS to rescind this mandate calling it an "unprecedented
attack on religious liberty." A government mandate to cover "all
FDA-approved contraceptives" most of which can cause early abortions,
constitutes a "nationwide government coercion of religious people and groups
to sell, broker or purchase ‘services’ to which they have a moral or
religious objection," the general counsel said.
"Until now," Picarello continued, "no federal law
has prevented private insurers from accommodating purchasers and plan
sponsors with moral or religious objections to certain services. Plans were
free under federal law to accommodate those objections by allowing
purchasers to choose not to buy coverage for…procedures that the purchaser
or sponsor found religiously or morally problematic.
"Likewise, federal law did not forbid any insurer,
such as a religiously-affiliated insurer, to exclude from its plans any
services to which the insurer itself had a moral or religious objection.
Indeed, the freedom to exclude morally objectionable services has sometimes
been stated affirmatively in federal law."
All of these conscience protections will end under
this Obama Administration mandate, Picarello said. "Individuals with a moral
or religious objection to these items and procedures will now be
affirmatively barred… from purchasing a plan that excludes [contraception
"Religiously-affiliated insurers with a moral or
religious objection likewise will be affirmatively barred from offering a
plan that excludes them to the public, even to members of their own
religion. Secular organizations (insurers, employers, and other plan
sponsors) with a moral or religious objection to coverage of contraceptives
or sterilization will be ineligible for the exemption."
The Department of Health and Human Services is
accepting public comments on its new policy through Sept. 30. The U.S.
Bishops are asking Catholic individuals, organizations, institutions,
business owners, etc. to submit comments urging DHHS to rescind its
outrageous contraceptive mandate.
Comments can be submitted very easily through the website of the National
Committee for a Human Life Amendment (www.nchla.org),
an affiliate of the USCCB. Background information is provided along with a
sample message and the ability to add additional comments. Those who use
this service will also be able to send a message to our elected
representatives in Congress urging them to support the Respect for Rights of
Conscience Act (H.R. 1179/S. 1497) to ensure that such federal mandates do
not violate Americans’ moral and religious convictions.
You can contact Greg at The Nebraska
Catholic Conference, 215 Centennial Mall South Suite 310, Lincoln, NE 68508;