Bishops Issue Response to HHS Decision

U.S. Bishops vow to fight HHS edict as a matter of freedom of conscience and religion; they say it is "unconscionable to force citizens to buy contraceptives against their will."

Statement follows:

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WASHINGTON—The Catholic bishops of the United States called “literally unconscionable” a decision by the Obama Administration to continue to demand that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans. Today's announcement means that this mandate and its very narrow exemption will not change at all; instead there will only be a delay in enforcement against some employers.

“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The cardinal-designate continued, “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty."

The HHS rule requires that sterilization and contraception – including controversial abortifacients – be included among “preventive services” coverage in almost every healthcare plan available to Americans. “The government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs,” added Cardinal-designate Dolan.

At issue, the U.S. bishops and other religious leaders insist, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for the conscience of Catholics and all other Americans.

“This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights,” said Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of the board at Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals. “I have hundreds of employees who will be upset and confused by this edict. I cannot understand it at all.”

Daughter of Charity Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, voiced disappointment with the decision. Catholic hospitals serve one out of six people who seek hospital care annually.

“This was a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection,” Sister Keehan said.

Cardinal-designate Dolan urged that the HHS mandate be overturned.

“The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand,” he said. “The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation. We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision.”

 

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Joshua DeCuir
5 years 10 months ago
The distressing thing about the reaction of many progressive Catholics is that they substitute an intra-ecclesial battle over the morality of artificial birth control (among others) for a constitutional principle.  The clear text of the First Amendment restricts the government's ability to restrict the free exercise of religion.  Whatever one's view of the morality of birth control, we ought to be able to agree as Americans that the First Amendment means what it says, progressives least of all.  Unfortunately, the entire basis of John Courtney Murray's insights into the social cohesion around a set of truths (as in "We Hold These Truths") has completely evaporated, and unforunately many Catholics applaud this.
Crystal Watson
5 years 10 months ago
In the news are the results of a study showing that contraception helps limit abortions, and that in places where it's hard to come by contraceptives, unsafe abortions rise in number.  US Catholic has a post on this - http://www.uscatholic.org/blog/2012/01/higher-rates-abortion-and-unsafe-abortion-developing-world-how-should-pro-life-movement

The church's  stance against contraceptives is not just ineffective (most Catholics use contraception), it's counter-productive to both preserving the health/lives of women and also to reducing the abortion rate.
Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 10 months ago
Dolan says: "To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable."

Who is being forced to choose between violating his conscience and foregoing healthcare? Isn't it just that Catholic hospitals and universities will be forced to choose between violating their consciences and not taking advantage of the tax break for employer-provided insurance?

Isn't the obvious solution to stop providing insurance to employees, increase wages and let the employees buy insurance for themselves? Is the objection that the insurance available on the open market is likely to be both over-priced and grossly substandard? Then why not fulminate about the overpriced substandard insurance that will be many people's only option?

The bishops could avoid an unseemly confrontation and sieze the moral high ground by adopting the position: "Because our employees will have to purchase insurance on the public exchanges, we will devote our still-considerable lobbying power to ensuring that affordable high-quality insurance is available to everybody whose employer does not provide it."
Joshua DeCuir
5 years 10 months ago
''The church's  stance against contraceptives is not just ineffective (most Catholics use contraception), it's counter-productive to both preserving the health/lives of women and also to reducing the abortion rate.''

This reponse exemplifies the misplaced emphasis of many progressive Catholics.  The issue is not, in the first instance, about birth control, but rather about the right enshrined in the very text of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  I suspect that should this action have been taken by a Republican administration with respect to an issue on which progressive Catholics are on the other side, they would not be so sanguine about this action.
Marie Rehbein
5 years 10 months ago
There is a difference between requiring that money be paid that might or might not ultimately provide some contraception to someone and requiring that people use contraception.  It's time for the Catholic Church to teach people about God, Jesus, eternal life, and love, and stop trying to intrude on the private behavior of people who are not even Catholic.  One presumes the Church will be free to coerce its employees to forego contraception even while the government coerces the Church to pay money to insurers who are required to pay for contraception should someone insured by them desire it.
Crystal Watson
5 years 10 months ago
The rights enshrined in the First Amendment have limits - if that were not true, Mormons would still be practicing polygamy. Reynolds vs United States ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reynolds_v._United_States
Crystal Watson
5 years 10 months ago
David

I'm sure the bishops know of it.  According to an AP news story today ... http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iGZIM_yzrH9hcW9h0T8FrLE3nSgA?docId=37e2d51f77734116adfcc59703548618 .....  "Some states already require religious employers to cover the pill."

About whom are the bishops speaking when they say Catholics will be forced go against their consciences .... apparently 90+% of Catholics already use contraception.
Stephen SCHEWE
5 years 10 months ago
Josh and David need work on their mind-reading skills.  As a progressive Christian, former Roman Catholic, supporter of birth control, and opponent of abortifacients and abortion,  I think HHS and the Obama administration have made a very poor decision on this regulation.  It's hard to imagine the Supreme Court, particularly a Supreme Court with six Catholics, not striking down this regulation on First Amendment grounds.  While the common ground on Catholic doctrine between liberals and conservatives has shrunk, I doubt it has become so small as to exclude support of Catholic institutions' rights to offer healthcare coverage without contradicting its basic beliefs.

In my opinion, it would be better for the Church to assert its rights to freedom of worship through the courts and if necessary, through civil disobedience, without portraying iself as a victim. Sister Keehan seems to strike the right tone.    
Thomas Piatak
5 years 10 months ago
Three cheers for the bishops. 
David Pasinski
5 years 10 months ago
I believe that nuclear weapons are inherently immoral.  They should not be made or threatened to be used. I think that our nation's producing them is materially sinful. Yet I pay all of my taxes and realize that I am thus a party to a policy that I reject and believe whole-heartedly that no one should support.

I likewise opposed the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and yet realized that my tax dollars funded these wars that were as close to being condemned by the pope as they could be.

Yet, if I want to accept the benfits of American citzenship, I live with this contradiction and ambiguity.

How is that different from paying on a health plan that gnerally supports provisions for many necessary and some that one finds morally objectionable?
David Pasinski
5 years 10 months ago
A case: A extremely well qualified non-Catholic mother of six who wants to work for the mission of the hospital in its service of the poor is hired with no question of her religious background or beliefs or practices.She knows she cannot promote any moral teachings to patients contrary to the Catholic faith but asks if her own personal insurance policy through the employer will cover birth control and sterilization. Should it?
Stephen SCHEWE
5 years 10 months ago
If the health plan was offered by a state for its employees, Dave's argument would be stronger.  In the case of a plan sponsored by a Catholic institution, there's ample support for customized healthcare plans that meet the needs of different sponsoring institutions; there's no need to buy in to the same approach as we do, for example, in funding a common defense policy.  Churches that  believe artificial means of contraception are against their beliefs are not obligated to support or fund the practice.

Crystal, I'm not a lawyer, but I imagine there will be plenty of religious liberty cases to cite in opposition to this regulation, starting with the case from WWII that exempted the Amish from military conscription.  The Amish could not be compelled to act against their basic beliefs by accepting a draft.
Anne Chapman
5 years 10 months ago
Brett says (#15): ''It violates my individual conscious as I will have to subsidize this nonsense via my insurance payments, and my collective conscious as a member of the Catholic community. ''

And yet your individual conscience and your collective conscience as a member of the Catholic community is not violated when the money you put into the collection basket supports corrupt bishops who protected child molesters, which paid for ''hush money' in many cases, and which has cost the church billions and billions? Corruption that continues in Kansas City, Philadelphia, and Ireland at the least? It is tragic for the church and especially for Philadelphia if this report is true - that Chaput led a rousing round of applause for Msgr Mann - the diocesan official who may have permitted a lay teacher and three priests to continue to molest boys even after he knew about the likelihood of this being true?   http://articles.philly.com/2011-10-05/news/30247067_1_archdiocesan-priests-defrocked-priest-sexually-abusive-priests

 Schools and churches have been closed down by the hundreds throughout the country, at least in part because of the money drain caused by the moral cowardice of the bishops in protecting pedophiles instead of turning them over to the civil justice system resulted thousdands of rapes and molestings and the whole church is suffering now, while many of these men still live in mansions, enjoy lifestyles unknown to most Catholics, especially those inner city Catholics who have lose their schools and parishes. Yet Cardinal Law has the unmitigated gall to throw himself an extremely lavish  80th birthday at one of Rome's most expenesive restaurants - all paid for by YOU and every other person in the pews who contributes money each week.

I chose to not subsidize this not-resolved scandal of the church's leaders refusing true accountability and repentance. You continue to subsidize it no matter the harm done to all Catholics because of the bishops' collective sins.

Those who are up in arms about the church maybe including birth control in insurance coverage may need to undertake some serious examination of conscience if they are not equally up in arms about their money being used to subsidize luxuries for bishops and Rome as well as paying for the legal defense of likely criminals.

The church should get out of the government contractor business, from which it earns millions and millions each year. If it cannot accept the government's terms for contractors (which ALL other contractors must accept to receive the business), they should rely on their own resources. If there is a law mandating certain coverages in medical insurance, then the church should pay enough money to its employees to allow them to buy their own insurance on the open market. The problem with that is that if people have any kind of pre-existing condition they may not be able to buy individual insurance, but must be covered under group insurance.  The mandate for anything specific to be covered under group insurance may be unconstitutional, but not for religious reasons. Every insurance policy I ever had varied widely in what it covered and didn't, and mandating coverage for any specific thing seems to be something new that should be looked at very carefully.  But, I am not an insurance expert and imagine all of us will learn quite a bit about the industry practices from this.


 
Joshua DeCuir
5 years 10 months ago
Mr. Schewe -

While I admire your intellectual consistency, I'm afraid my comments are justified in light of the hyperbolic reaction already to this decision on places like NCR, as well as to the reactions from progressives Catholics to the recent Supreme Court decision in Hosanna-Tabor.  Many of them are still convinced that that decision gave carte-blanche authority to the Church to retaliate against those who report child sexual abuse, despite the clear textual exception given both in the arguments before the Court and the unanimous opinion.
David Pasinski
5 years 10 months ago
Pork sandwich at a lunch counter? Humorous, but it is not a parallel issue.

If she cannot receive this coverage through employer's health plan, this is a considerable expense for her to pay privately and may be a breaking point as far as employment. Perhaps this is the rigorous stance that some say must be accepted, but once we start parsing up the programs too much, the values and savings involved in the reform are lost- which is what many Republicans and others want.

Again, no one is being forced to UTILIZE these services, thus I cannot see how this is particularly imperiling ''freedom of religion.'' The practices of the Amish and other such groups may be interesting to note here. There is not state coercion of religious or moral practice any more than noted in my previous post in that I see a similarity in that all of us are obliged to pay taxes and we do not get to say ''Don't fund this weapon or this war.'' We are left to protest that in various ways at our own peril even though it is a moral and religious issue base in our faith and the common teachings of the last popes. 

Personally, I would like to see some of the bishops protest this policy if they feel so stronglly about it, by putting themselves into a situation of civil disobedience and accepting the punishments that so many activists have endured for objections to current wars, weapons, School of the Americas, etc.  Their example rather than their fulminations would give pause to many to think about these issues.   
Crystal Watson
5 years 10 months ago
I don't think this is really about contraception or religious freedom, it's about power.

As stated in the news .....

"many states as well as federal civil rights law already require most religious employers to cover prescription contraceptives if they provide coverage of other prescription drugs ... dozens of Catholic hospitals and universities currently offer contraceptive coverage as part of their health insurance packages.   .... Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., also offers contraceptive coverage to its employees – though not to its students ..."

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/12/02/143022996/catholic-groups-fight-contraceptive-rule-but-many-already-offer-coverage?ft=1&f=103537970
Andy Buechel
5 years 10 months ago
This is actually a fight that's been going on for decades.  After the Smith decision, which upheld the drug conviction of some Native Americans who used peyote for religious purposes (and was written by Scalia with dissents coming from the liberal Blackmun), the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in 1993, and signed by Bill Clinton, provisions of which were also struck down by justices including the conservatives.  Essentially, these cases said that any law that was no passed AGAINST a religious group, but adversely effected them incidentally, was still constitutionally binding.  In other words, free exercise does not include automatic religious exemptions from obeying generally applicable laws.  It's difficult to know what the recent case of Hosanna-Tabor means for this, since it seems they're claiming that decision is consistent with Smith because it involves ''internal'' church matters.  I'm not convinced at all that, given the current case law, the bishops have much of a leg to stand on.  If the broad exemption the bishops seek is to be seen as constitutionally obligatory, I wonder if the proponents of it really have looked at the Pandora's Box they're opening.  Does the Court and government get to decide what counts as religion, or can I put ''Church of Andy'' on by window and sell pot because its part of the religion I made up 20 minutes ago?  What about fundamentalist Mormons seeking exemptions for polygamy?  That's settled law right now, but if this broad exemption is read as necessary under the Constitution, I wouldn't be surprised if that's called into question.
Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 10 months ago
Hi Brett,

How are you subsidizing contraception through insurance payments? Is your employer one who does not presently cover contraception and will now have to? Can't he just stop providing it as part of your salary, give you the cost in your paycheck and let you buy insurance on the open market? Can't you opt out and buy your own (contraception-free) insurance in any case?

Which religious hospitals are being forced to provide which services against their consciences? How are they being forced? (Not being able to receive a government subsidy is hardly coercion, you agree with that, don't you?)

I do not agree with the policy ("edict") and I'm willing to let the Court decide whether it's constitutional (That's how the Constitution works, after all.) but I really don't see where anybody is being forced to do anything.

Sloppy reasoning is un-Catholic, Brett, and offensive to God, who made you in His image by giving you intellect and free-will.

Have fun at the March.
Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 10 months ago
"This is a mandate/edict for all private employers to provide the sterilization and contraceptive "services" to employees."

This statement is so misleading it verges on falsehood. No Catholic hospital is being required to perform sterilizations, prescribe contraceptives or (God forbid) perform abortions. No such thing has been proposed and if it were, it would never get past Congress.

The requirement is only that IF Catholic hospitals and universities wish to take advantage of the tax deduction for employer-provided insurance, they must provide insurance that covers contraception and sterilization. They are not required to provide health insurance.

It is a politically motivated bid to curry favor with a large group of potentially-supportive voters by writing off a small group of irrevocably-opposed voters. That's how the game of politics is played. It is not exactly statesmanlike. But it is not a gross violation of religious liberty either.
Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 10 months ago
" ... it would be penalized with a hefty fine and forced to terminate its health insurance for employees and students. For example, a religious organization with 100 employees would have to pay the federal government $140,000 per year for the “privilege” of not underwriting medical services it believes are immoral. In other words, Belmont Abbey would be forced to pay for the right to remain true to its principles!"

$140K a year is not unduly hefty, considering that they would not have the expense of paying for the insurance.
Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 10 months ago
Right, Brett, we're saying the same thing; you, I, and Jenkins.

No Catholic insititution has to pay for contraception. They can stop providing health insurance to their employees instead. It's not a great option. But it's not the end of the world. A lot of employers don't provide health insurance.

It's going to cost them, obviously. Notre Dame will have to pay higher wages and salaries if they want to attract top talent. But they can rejoice that they have been found worthy to suffer for the Lord.
Jim Michaels
5 years 10 months ago
Amy above believes Pres. Obama has outwitted the Bishops.  I beg to disagree.  Pres. Obama has blundered tremendously on this one, because this is an issue the Bishops are willing to go to ''war'' over, and this war will now occur in an election year when Mr. Obama can ill afford to lose votes in Catholic-populous states like PA, MN, WI, IA and OH.  Pres. Obama could have easily crafted a broader exemption as many states have done.  He chose not to do so.  The one year compliance extension allows the Bishops to make a simple argument:  vote Obama out to stop this rule.  They will not say it in those words, but you can bet they will say it in words very close to that.  Those who remember the 2009 vote in Congress on this law will remember the extraordinary influence the Bishops had in that debate which included putting inserts in Sunday bulletins all across the country asking parishioners to contact Congress.  Did Pres. Obama really want a redux of that?  This issue will be a significant 2012 campaign issue for many, and those on the losing side will likely be more motivated to go to the polls.
Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 10 months ago
BTW, it is about tax deductions. The tax deduction is why employers WANT to provide health insurance as part of employee compensation. Employers don't provide health insurance for thrills; it's a lot more expensive to pay employees enough to buy their own insurance.

It's also worse for the employees. The health insurance they buy on the exchanges will cover less and cost more. That IS an egregious injustice: the working poor pay more and get less while professionals pay less and get more. It's a lousy deal for all working poor people, not just employees of Catholic institutions.

But the bishops don't seem concerned about that huge, glaring, wide-spread, often fatal injustice. They'd much rather fulminate their self-absorbed, self-referential, demagogic, sophistical casuistries about "religious liberty" and "violation of conscience" and "remote material cooperation."

That's what I find so unseemly about this whole farce. That's why it's not going to affect my vote one way or the other.
Jim Michaels
5 years 10 months ago
One addendum to the above comment:  the Obama administration estimates there are 2 million people employed by religious-affiliated organizations in the USA, most of those being Cathloic-affilated entities.  If these entities drop health insurance coverage for their employees because of this rule, how does that help the Obama administration's stated goal of reducing the number of the uninsured?  This will be a huge setback in that effort.  One that could have easily been avoided.
Marie Rehbein
5 years 10 months ago
"Since when did pumping the bodies of our daughters and wives full of artificial hormones and chemicals become 'health care'"

"where does the federal government pretend to receive the power to dictate the terms medical coverage of individual citizens or private associations?"


The answer to these questions involve recognizing that there are women who think for themselves, who take responsibility for their own bodies, who vote, and who want insurers to cover contraception.
Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 10 months ago
"This has nothing to do with the bishops or their ego, as you say ... "

I didn't say it has to do with their ego. I said it has to do with their cash registers. Upholding the Faith is going to cost them some money. That's what all the screaming is about.

Don't worry, they'll survive. They might have to cancel the orders for a few cappae magnae, maybe hawk a few jewel-encrusted croziers on eBay. If Notre Dame finds a top-notch football coach they really want to hire, the Vatican can sell Michelangelo's Pietá to the King of Saudi Arabia. No biggie.

It's not going to affect my vote. The bishops are pretty good at saying "Too bad, deal with it, kid" to lay people. Now it's their turn to hear it. IMHO.

"Where does the federal government pretend to receive the power to dictate the terms medical coverage."

Yes, now we agree again. I think this is an interesting question too. But I am not a lawyer. The Supreme Court will have to decide. It will be an interesting case. But I predict it won't be based on religious liberty arguments, which almost nobody who's anybody seems to take seriously. It will be all about interstate commerce. "Commerce" means money, you know.

Have a good time at the March for Life, Brett. I mean it. I think it's great that you contribute your time and energy to do that.
Anne Chapman
5 years 10 months ago
Brett, you forgot to tell us why your conscience doesn't bother you when your money is used to support bishops who protected pedophiles and who continue to use your money to fight the legal system (as well as pay for their personal lifestyles and luxuries while they close down inner city schools). It seems your outrage is a bit selective.

''Since when did pumping the bodies of our daughters and wives full of artificial hormones and chemicals become 'health care'''  Health care includes protecting against health risks, and there are thousands of medications (all including chemicals and sometimes hormones) prescribed to protect people from dying from countless diseases, the most common being cardiovascular.  For healthy women under 40 who do not smoke, using the pill has fewer health risks than getting pregnant does. The mortality rate from oral contraceptive use is significantly lower than the mortality rate from complications of pregnancy and childbirth in developed countries, and using any form of contraception, including the pill, is FAR safer for women than pregnancy and childbirth in many poor, third world countries where maternal mortality rates are as high as 1 in 8. (The FDA and World Health Organization have good data).

Nevertheless, this case could end up in the Supreme Court, not because anyone is being denied their religious rights, but because it could involve an overreaching mandate.  The Jehovah's Witnesses may watch with interest, as they are legally bound to seek lifesaving medical care for their children when needed even though certain procedures are ''against'' their religious beliefs. I don't know if they provide medical insurance to their employees that eliminates coverage for blood transfusions or not. It would be interesting to find out. On the other side, the Christian Scientists, who don't believe in medicine but who provide their employees (some of whom are not Christian Scientists) with health insurance anyway, have long sought to have a way to mandate that health insurance carriers include coverage for spiritual healers.

If this goes to court at some point, it will be interesting to see who files ''friend of the court'' briefs.

And you are wrong when you say this: 

''So, either adhere to their edict or deny providing your employees with insurance. Neither option is viable for Catholics and our institutions.''

Actually, dropping coverage is seen as a ''viable'' solution for the church in some cases. Last May the church in Washington DC dropped coverage for all spouses of new employees from employee health insurance plans after DC legalized same-sex marriage.  In so doing, they preserved their $22 MILLION contract with the city, while denying health insurance to ALL the spouses of employees, who may not have access to other insurance, especially with a pre-existing condition.  It also increases costs to families who would be forced to pay two premiums - one for the group plan and a more expensive one for a private plan (if obtainable) for the non-covered spouse. Did the church give people raises to cover the second premium? It seems that keeping a lucrative contract was more important than dealing justly with their employees. I would guess that at least some of their employees are gay - are they going to ask them all about their sexuality? And then drop insurance for them too?

Jim McCrea
5 years 10 months ago
I predict that this move will garner Obama MORE Catholic votes than it will cost him.  And votes from non-religious Independents.  And secular liberal Democrats.  And women.  And liberal men.

Sts. Newt and Callista the Vestal Virgin, ora pro multis.
Crystal Watson
5 years 10 months ago
"'Since when did pumping the bodies of our daughters and wives full of artificial hormones and chemicals become 'health care''

Aside from protecting against unwanted pregnancies, birth control pills also protect against some kinds of cancer   ...

http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/news/News/birth-control-pill-use-cuts-ovarian-cancer-risk

A Catholic doctor, John Rock, was one of the developers of the birth control pill, and many at Vatican II had read his book "The Time Has Come: A Catholic Doctor's Proposals to End the Battle over Birth Control".  It was his belief that the pill was actually not artificail  ....

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rock_%28American_scientist%29#Pill_development_and_promotion
Thomas Rooney OFS
5 years 10 months ago
Echoing Steve in post #6, I oppose abortion and abortificients, but not necessarily birth control.  As a practicing Catholic and Franciscan, I realize this puts me in a dissenting position against my Church, but that's neither here nor there.  The point is, I am progressive-leaning-toward-liberal on the political spectrum.

With this, President just lost my vote.  In my opinion, it may cost him the majority Catholic vote he grabbed so comfortably in 2008. 

This is basic First Amendment stuff, folks.  This mandate will force various Catholic institutions to fund/provide that which it specifically teaches is immoral.  An impossible situation; either violate the tenets of your faith, or shutter your doors.  The year's grace period will offer time to fight through the courts. But if this ultimately comes to pass, Catholic healthcare in this country may start playing its swan song.   
Joshua DeCuir
5 years 10 months ago
"This is basic First Amendment stuff, folks.  This mandate will force various Catholic institutions to fund/provide that which it specifically teaches is immoral. "

Thank you for this witness!  Refreshing to see someone understand the heart of this issue - which isn't artificial contraception - but rather the power of the government (whatever politicial party happens to occupy its halls) over-against individuals and communities.
David Pasinski
5 years 10 months ago
My point is simple as I keep relating it to defense...

 We already support policies and WEAPONS that are immoral. Even for those who see these actions regarding birth control and sterilization as immoral, why is this different? Because institutions now have to formally have health that cover such procedures?

A question ... Are facilites supported by Jehovah's Witnesses exempt from covering transfusions?

I am not going to authorize a nuclear weapon, but in my name someday, one could again be used. Should I refuse to pay taxes or a percen tage of them?

Then I would possibly face prison. Perhaps the bishops willingness to do that would be real statement.
Thomas Rooney OFS
5 years 10 months ago
@ Dave P, forced funding of specific medical procedures is not the same as being taxed.  The fact that these are private Catholic insitutitions that are the issue here. 

Could someone enlighten me please?  Although privately owned, I'm sure these institutions get some government monies.  Is the issue that the government would pull any federal funding of the institutions in question for non-compliance?  If that is the case, I'd love to see the USCCB refuse the funding, liquidate some of the Dioceses' more posh holdings and take it from there. 

If, however, non-compliance would be against the law...I would be extremely worried.
David Pasinski
5 years 10 months ago
I believe I understand your distinction, but it is one without a difference morally, I think.

If MY MONEY is being used for an IMMORAL ACTION through taxes or through paying for a mandate for a health insurance OPTION that includes an action that I MAY find objectionable, is the institution with which I am identified more morally culpable - or MORE COERCED -than I am as an individual providing my part to weapons that may incinerate people?

Should I be free to not pay taxes on that part of the defense budget due to my religious convictions rooted as firmly in the teachings of my faith as I believe you are in suggesting an institution representing a particular value stand should be exempt from coverage for these procedures? 

And I still want to know about the policies of the Jehovah's Witnesses and any comparision there if someone could enlighten me.

Thank you.
Juan Lino
5 years 10 months ago
I’m going to violate my self-imposed promise to fast from the internet to weigh in with some observations and questions about this important issue. 
 
It seems to me that the heart of the debate seems to be the issue of the extent to which individuals and organizations should be allowed to refuse to offer services which violate their consciences.  And most of us can agree that an individual’s or corporation’s (religious organization, etc.) refusal to provide certain services (or “goods”) can pose a barrier to an employee, customer, etc. who wants those services or goods.  ANd, of course, it appears that our government believes that a person’s conscience (or a corporation’s conscience) must give way in deference to another’s rights.  But is this premise something we should support — especially if we believe that conscience is inviolable?
 
I am asking this because it seems to me that the proper role of conscience is to evaluate one’s own actions.  So, if a health-care worker refuses to provide a controversial service, his or her conscience is making a judgment about his or her own participation in the action. 
 
So a nurse who refuses to participate in an abortion (or refer someone to a place where they can obtain one) is, in essence, saying that their own action would be immoral because it would contribute to something he or she knows to be wrong.  And if that’s true, why would shouldn't we oppose the government’s desire to force its citizens to set aside their consciences?  Isn’t that just a way to make people sell their birthright for a bowl of porridge?
Rick Fueyo
5 years 10 months ago
My view on this is it is important to focus the actual impact of the decision before employing overarching terms such as religious liberty or freedom of conscience. Employing those terms is not calculated to advance the debate, since no one is against either.  The question is whether either is legitimately impacted by this decision.
 First, some background. As part of the health care act, the administration is going to require certain minimum services be provided as part of every policy. If we set aside for a moment any concern about whether we agree with some specific services for moral reasons, this makes sense from a good government perspective, as it makes little sense to maintain the mandate, which is necessary to make the whole reform work, without having a minimum level of services that must be provided.
 Then the question becomes generally whether contraceptive/abortifacient services should be among those mandated. Again, putting aside the conscience considerations, and viewing just as a function of common demand, it seems obvious that such services, which are widely consumed, should be mandated to achieve the purpose of the legislation, which is to ensure that any health care plan covers common services are widely demanded. Again, as many as stated here, even those who call themselves Catholics are common consumers of such services.
 So then we come to the conscience issue. The Bishops wanted a wide exclusion that no health care plan that was provided by an employer affiliated with a diocese or order provide such services.  The administration's position is that such a conscience exemption should only be applicable to employees which are required to uphold the faith, the so-called ministerial exception.  There is an appealing logic to a conscience exemption drafted that narrowly/broadly, as it ensures that a religious employer is exempt from regulations that would compel it to pay for services that would be objectionable, or contrary to the faith, if consumed by the relevant employees.
 But in this case, it should be undisputed that thousands of common employees of Catholic schools/hospitals, or others, will routinely consume contraceptive services. These employees are not required, to my knowledge, to pledge fealty to the faith or to otherwise perform any ministerial services. Indeed, I believe many are of other faiths.
 That is what the debate is about, whether Catholic institutions which retain non-Catholic employees in numerous non-ministerial positions should be granted an exemption, even when applied to those employees.
 Personally, I don't see it as a violation of conscience under the circumstances. To the extent that the Church occupies a role as an ordinary employer, then it is subject to the ordinary regulations binding other nonreligious employers, with the exception of employees which actually occupy a ministerial role and are required to be faithful to the tenets of the faith.  All the Church would be required to do to fit within the exemption as currently worded is to mandate that any employee act in a ministerial fashion and adopt the tenets of the Church.
Marie Rehbein
5 years 10 months ago
If an organization, such as the Catholic Church, puts money in an insurance company's pot from which some money is drawn by people, Catholic and non-Catholic, to purchase contraceptives, it is no different than if the Catholic Church were to be taxed and some of that money were to be used to fund an "unjust" war.  The only reason this is an issue is because the Catholic Church, along with other churches, is exempt from taxation and so unused to having its contributions directed toward activities to which it objects.

Were we to fund health care solely through the government by money taken from individuals instead of their employers, the issue of indirectly paying for contraceptives would be on par with indirectly paying for "unjust" wars.  It would be a non-issue for the Church.  The Church would not be howling that its members should be exempted from having to pay taxes or insurance premiums because this money might be used for immoral purposes.

It is such a minor technicality that the Church looks like it is paying for something it teaches to be immoral when, as an employer, it has to pay insurance premiums.  The Church should lead by example by butting out of the private medical decisions of people who are not even Catholic and by assuming that its teaching of its members would prevent them from the immoral act of contracepting.  Assume that the insurance premiums paid by the Church are going to pay for premie health care, which compared to the cost of contraception is astronomical and surely sufficient to account for whatever the Church is contributing to the insurance pot.
David Pasinski
5 years 10 months ago
I appreciate Rick's analysis. The Church is an "ordinary employer" in the way the way education and healthcare in particular have developed. This, of course, was not the original case, but society's needs and regulations have changed and yet the Church hs often wanted to reclaim some medieval notion of the "peace of God" to exempt itself.  We simply can no longer have it both ways.
Juan Lino
5 years 10 months ago
Unless the wording of the law has changed (and I can’t find any documents on the Net that indicate that it has), here’s a concrete example of the impact it has on one college – Belmont Abbey College. 
 
Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius (2011-Current)
 
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty represents Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic liberal arts college founded by Benedictine monks, in a lawsuit against the federal government to protect Belmont Abbey’s right to be true to its principles.  As a Catholic college, Belmont Abbey teaches that contraception, sterilization, and abortion are against God’s law.
 
So in August 2011, when the federal government issued a regulation requiring that all group health plans must cover “[FDA-]approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity,” Belmont Abbey knew it could not be true to both the government mandate and its Church’s teachings.  This is so because FDA-approved contraceptives include a number of drugs Belmont Abbey, and many scientists, consider to be abortifacients — most notably Plan B and Ella.  Were Belmont Abbey to choose not to cover contraception and sterilization as required by the government mandate, it would be penalized with a hefty fine and forced to terminate its health insurance for employees and students. For example, a religious organization with 100 employees would have to pay the federal government $140,000 per year for the “privilege” of not underwriting medical services it believes are immoral. In other words, Belmont Abbey would be forced to pay for the right to remain true to its principles!
 
Note the section I have bolded – this is why it’s considered a “religious liberty” issue!
 
Primary documents can be found here: http://www.becketfund.org/belmont-abbey-college-v-sebelius-2011-current/
Stephen SCHEWE
5 years 10 months ago
I suppose we should mark this as a red letter day; the moment when I find myself agreeing with David Smith and Juan Lino!  The provisions of healthcare plans sponsored by Catholic institutions like hospitals and schools should not be affected by what kinds of healthcare is “in demand” or by the religious composition of their work forces.  The marketplace has spawned plenty of treatments (elective cosmetic surgery for people other than those afflicted by birth defects or burns/accidents comes to mind) that are not covered by standard healthcare plans.  As a society, we put values of efficacy and morality on specific medicines and procedures by deciding whether to cover them with insurance.  The leaders of the Church have an opportunity to witness to their faith by deciding not to cover medicines and procedures they consider to be immoral.  Echoing Thomas Rooney in #44, my individual beliefs about whether some forms of contraception are licit are neither here nor there.  If employees covered by these plans dislike the coverage enough, they may seek employment elsewhere.
The monolithic conservatism of the current church leadership, which in my opinion is a liability in other cases, allows church institutions faced with this particular threat to act quickly and decisively, if those leaders have the courage of their convictions.
Finally, the government’s “ministerial exception” logic needs to be challenged.  By virtue of our baptisms, all believers are ministers in Christ’s church.  The First Amendment protects the consciences of all citizens, not just those with robes or collars. 
Juan Lino
5 years 10 months ago
LOL!  I agree with you that the issue is not about whether the use of artificial contraception is or is not moral but rather it’s about “government intrusion.”  To the horror of some of my friends, even though I am a registered Democrat and a staunch believer that one must strive for syntony with Christ’s wishes and desires as expressed through His Church, I have told them something similar to what you have said at the end of your comment: “The First Amendment protects the consciences of all citizens, not just those with robes or collars.” 
 
Thank you for your graciousness and gentlemanly response Steve.  Peace.
Juan Lino
5 years 10 months ago
Amy - in their case it might actually be a hefty fine depending on their budget, etc.  But neither one of us knows unless someone has done a forensic accounting of their finances and we have access to that data.  Plus, lawyers, like journalists, are known to and are expected to exaggerate - so no surprise there. 

The heart of the matter though, to me, is that this religious college has to pay a fine because they will not allow the government to impose their "morality" on to them? 

Is that something you agree with?
Rick Fueyo
5 years 10 months ago
Hi Juan:
 
I wish to explore further the following statement from a legal perspective: “The First Amendment protects the consciences of all citizens, not just those with robes or collars.” 
 
I'm not sure how it applies in this case, because the only conscience at issue is that of a hierarchal religious authority, the Catholic Church.   (Mind you, I'm not using “hierarchal” in a pejorative sense, but in the strict Establishment Clause jurisprudence, in which it has significance). 
 
The First Amendment has numerous protections, and conscience protections are customarily considered part of the freedom of expression/freedom of speech. Those protections have occasionally been expanded into the taking of common oaths, but have almost never been understood to address financial support of actions which one disagrees with, for all of the examples raised earlier in the comments, i.e., The fact that citizens do not have the right to refuse to pay taxes to support the war or other items in which they find morally abhorrent. Our minority protections do not go that far, his government would otherwise be unworkable.
 
Through the Medicare/Medicaid/VA systems, we all pay for a host of medical procedures that some may find disagreeable, although the Hyde Amendment and the Executive Order entered as part of the compromise process should prevent abortion or abortifacients.  However, Medicaid does pay for various contraceptive services, so all of our tax dollars are already going towards payment of contraceptive services, and it would not be effective to object to payment of such tax dollars on the basis of conscience protections.
 
The point is, the broad conscience protections of the First Amendment are not implicated in this debate.  The conscience protections at issue are derivative of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment, which, under what courts have turned the Ecclesial Abstention doctrine, which prevents government from interfering in the management of churches, especially hierarchal churches. The recent Supreme Court decision was an application that doctrine. 
 
Under that doctrine, any church can assert the Free Exercise clause to excuse it from other generally applicable laws, subject to ministerial exception, requiring that the employees which are exempt actually part of the religious mission, required to uphold the tenets of the faith. There is also limited consideration as to how widespread the activity is for which an exemption is being sought. Various Native American tribes sought to have an exemption for the use of peyote, and were denied by the Supreme Court, largely based upon the fact that it was unusual. Conversely, and these are not perfect analogs, I concede, even during Prohibition, the use of what the law termed "sacramental wine”, which we believers know to be the Blood of Christ, was specifically exempted.
 
Thus, I don't believe it's legally accurate to make the statement that the conscience of all citizens are implicated here. That would of course be relevant if any of the regulations mandated that any individual citizen actually use abortifacients or other contraceptive services. But that's not the issue. The issue is whether the Catholic Church, in its role as an employer of non-ministerial personnel that do not necessarily conform to its belief system, can be excused from an otherwise generally applicable regulation.
Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 10 months ago
Hi Juan,

I think it will always be cheaper to pay $140K than to buy insurance for a hundred employees. Even if the employees are a hundred twenty-year-olds in perfect health.

No, it is not something I agree with. I accept the Church's teaching that contraception is morally wrong, I do not think it can legitimately be considered "health care," and I personally don't know anybody who can't afford to buy condoms. (I doubt I know anybody who will go through the trouble of getting insurance to pay for their birth control.)

But it is also true that the bishops have blundered atrociously. They were stupid to take their stand on this issue, which could easily have been finessed, stupid not to leave themselves an escape hatch, stupid not to have known that many Catholic institutions already pay for contraception in their employees' health insurance. They have been brilliantly outmaneuvered by Obama. Their only plausible course of action now is to deprive tens of thousands of their employees of affordable health insurance, which makes them look callous and arbitrary, obsessed with obscure points of doctrine and indifferent to the people who work for them. Did you notice how Obama released the policy right before the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade? It is a perfect parable in action of what he wants people to believe, that the Church's opposition to abortion is eiusdem generis as Her opposition to birth control, and that both are merely cynical power-plays.

It was a rookie mistake and these guys have prowled the precincts of power too long to be making rookie mistakes.
Juan Lino
5 years 10 months ago
Rick - you raise some interesting points but did you mean to direct your comments to me or to Steve (#52) who I was referring to in my comment?  I dont mind responding to your comment but I wnat to make sure that's what you want.

Amy - I am not so sure that it's as big a blunder as you think.  Yes, I noticed the timing of the release as well and yes, our current president is very shrewd, as was Henry VII.  Yes, many of our bishops are not St. John Fisher (or St. Thomas More), nor do they want to be but that doesn't mean that we can't be.  In any event, Vat 2 stated that this is our arena, not theirs although as citizens they can cerrainly express an opinion and fight as well.  Of course, time will tell if it was a rookie mistake or not although it might just express exasperation at a pattern that our current administration is pursuing.  Also, isn't it convenient that the issue has been pushed down the road so that it won't be an "election year" issue?

Peace. 
Amy Ho-Ohn
5 years 10 months ago
Juan, the issue has been pushed down the road so that it will be an election year issue.

Thomas More was a layman, so your analogy is a little off. I don't want any American bishop to end up like Ignatius of Antioch but a little less Athanasian bombast would be OK with me too. ISTM Timothy Dolan, who was touted as the Second Coming of Richelieu, has now botched two big tests in a row. If Boniface VIII were on the Throne of St. Peter, Dolan's life expectancy would be plummeting.

(BTW, you meant Henry VIII, of course, the syphilitic fellow with all the wives. Henry VII is the bore who comes in and gives a thoroughly unmemorable speech in the last act of "Richard III".)

Pax quoque tibi.
Juan Lino
5 years 10 months ago
LOL - great response Amy!  Yes, I should have just stuck with St. John Fisher - mea culpa!  
C Walter Mattingly
5 years 10 months ago
Supporters of the Obama coercive ruling on this health care issue who attempt to portray the Church's position as that of intractable and out of touch pronouncements from the thrones of various bishops make a procrustean argument. Among those quoted in Kevin Clarke's article are Daughters of Charity Sister Carol Keehan, not noted as one who shills for or subordinates her sense of social justice to that of the bishops, nor as a great enemy of the Obama administration, nor does Franciscan Sister Jane Klein possess a jeweled mitre. Last I heard, neither of these sisters are bishops. The objection of the Catholic community and its leadership to this questionable ruling by the Obama administration is far more widely based than many supporters here suggest.

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