HHS abortifacient mandate needs to be rescinded

Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond    After several weeks of controversy, President Obama said on Feb. 10 that he was directing the Department of Health and Human Services to modify healthcare regulations so that if a religious entity has moral objections to providing insurance for abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization, it would not directly pay for those services, but those services would be paid for by the insurance company itself. This has raised even more questions about the impact on religious freedom. Can you sort this out?
    The bottom line is that as a national conference of Catholic bishops, we have raised serious objections since last August to the federal mandate that would force religious organizations to provide insurance coverage for what the government is euphemistically calling “preventive services.” Essentially, federal bureaucrats with HHS wrote a rule that forces private health plans to cover sterilization and artificial contraception, including drugs that can cause abortion. It’s important to note that all other mandated “preventive services” target disease, and pregnancy is not a disease. In addition, forcing the plans to cover abortifacients violates federal conscience laws already on the books. That’s why we requested in August 2011 for the mandate to go.
    This mandate is an unprecedented affront to conscience for many reasons – and not just because it directly impacts the Catholic Church and its charities and educational institutions. What about the insurer who is forced to write policies that it considers immoral? What about the owner of an architecture firm who morally objects to providing healthcare coverage for these things? What about individuals who are forced to pay premiums for the coverage?
    That’s why we urged HHS – if they would not eliminate the mandate – to at the very least provide a solid conscience objection that would take in not just religious institutions such as the Catholic Church but the vast number of people who object to the services.
    How did the president’s modifications change the situation?
    Well, first of all, the mandate to provide abortifacient drugs and surgical sterilization stays. It is now officially implemented. It has not been eliminated. This is a grave moral concern and an affront to the First Amendment free exercise clause. Even at this moment, we don’t really know the specifics of the changes he has called for. The bishops’ conference and its teams of experts are poring over the details now.
    This is what the White House statement seems to be saying: Employers’ insurers still would have to provide coverage for these services. Even self-insuring religious employers seem not to be exempt from the mandate. Apparently, religious employers would “declare” that they don’t offer such coverage, and the insurance company would provide the coverage “for free” as part of the existing policy. And, we also have a one-year extension through August 2013 before this goes into effect.
    What do you make of all of this?
    While some may consider it a step in the right direction, I have two major concerns. First, if the Catholic Church or any other religious denomination has moral objections to these drugs and surgical procedures, then the insurance companies will provide it on their own. That likely will mean that insurance rates will go up, and we will be paying for it one way or the other. I don’t know of too many insurance companies that can give services away for free. Secondly, the president was very vague in whether or not a layperson who owns a company has a conscience right to opt out of providing these services for employees.
    Is the president listening?
    I personally don’t think the administration has really heard our concerns. I don’t think they’ve heard Cardinal Dolan. The issue, at this point, is whether or not we have the right as Christians and Americans to live our consciences and do what we believe is right by making decisions for those under our direct authority, whether it’s a church entity or an individual business.
    What is the bishops’ conference doing right now?
    The conference has many people going over this from every angle. What are the moral implications? What is the effect on religious liberty? We are storming Congress and the legislatures. There are many legislators who agree with us. We are urging Congress to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. We will continue to urge the administration to sign it. But if none of that works, then, obviously, we will have to go into legal action, which is never pleasant and which will only put people at greater odds with one another. The amazing thing to me from my reading local and national newspapers is just how many people have misunderstood the whole issue. They just don’t grasp its seriousness. This is basically unconstitutional. This is not an argument about contraception or birth  control. We’re dealing with drugs that induce abortion. We’re dealing with sterilizations. And, we’re dealing with the government telling Catholic agencies what we can and can’t do medically. The only complete solution to this threat to religious liberty is to eliminate the mandate. We must continue to pray that this will happen.
    How concerned are you?
    We have had the ability in this country to practice our religion at home, in church and in the public square. This threatens our ability to practice our faith and live up to our conscience. If anybody had told me at any point in my 62 years of life that my religious freedom to practice my faith would be taken away by the U.S. government, I never would have believed it.
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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