In a new statement tonight on President Obama’s noontime announcement of a new plan for mandatory contraceptive coverage in health insurance plans, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the “only complete solution” to the religious liberty implications of the insurance mandate “is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.”
Titled “Bishops Renew Call To Legislative Action On Religious Liberty,” the 700-word statement expanded on an earlier statement the same day saying the Obama announcement might be “a first step in the right direction” but that the conference still had concerns and reserved “judgment on the details until we have them.”
Tonight’s statement is a much more detailed analysis of the new plan. It notes that what it calls “the lack of clear protection” for religious employers and insurers “is unacceptable and must be corrected.” It also pledged to continue “efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government.”
Here is the full text of tonight’s statement:
The Catholic bishops have long supported access to life-affirming healthcare for all, and the conscience rights of everyone involved in the complex process of providing that healthcare. That is why we raised two serious objections to the “preventive services” regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in August 2011.
First, we objected to the 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. All the other mandated “preventive services” prevent disease, and pregnancy is not a disease. Moreover, forcing plans to cover abortifacients violates existing federal conscience laws. Therefore, we called for the rescission of the mandate altogether.
Second, we explained that the 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. We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders—not just the extremely small subset of “religious employers” that HHS proposed to exempt initially.
Today, the President has done two things.
First, he has decided to retain HHS’s nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients. This is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern. We cannot fail to reiterate this, even as so many would focus exclusively on the question of religious liberty. Continue reading