by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — After a year of tinkering, the Obama administration issued its promised proposal to address religious liberty concerns raised by part of the Affordable Care Act.
The verdict on the Feb. 1 notice of possible changes for the preventive services for women part of the ACA — known as the contraceptive mandate — is in.
Thanks for the effort, but no deal, say the U.S. bishops.
The new accommodation has at least three big problems, according to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
First, it has a narrow understanding of religious ministry. Second, it compels ministries to fund and facilitate morally illicit services. And third, it totally disregards the conscience rights of business owners.
“I don’t think it’s a serious effort on the administration’s part to respond to our concerns about religious liberty,” said Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. “To me, it’s very, very disappointing that, after a year, this is what the administration would propose.”
Beyond the three cited by Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop Naumann has a few more.
“I think the fundamental concern is that the administration continues to treat pregnancy and fertility as diseases that need to be prevented when they are healthy conditions,” said Archbishop Naumann.
“And it continues to make free contraception the most important objective in terms of their proposal for health coverage,” he added. “They want to provide these services free of charge, when essential medical services won’t be free of charge without co-pays — and they still want to force some religious entities to be complicit in the provision of these, and they still want to define what is authentically religious and what isn’t.”
And the Obama administration is still unclear on how self-funded programs, like that of the archdiocese, would be not be forced to fund abortifacients and contraceptives.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which opened a 60-day comment period, is merely an effort to appear responsive to religious liberty concerns without really having effect, said the archbishop.
This can be seen in the administration’s proposal to eliminate three of the criteria of the four-part test used to determine what is an exempt religious entity.
“I think what they did was eliminate what was most difficult for them to defend in court and in the arena of public opinion,” said the archbishop.
“But by their own admission,” he continued, “by keeping the fourth criteria, it would still deny an exemption to the religious ministries when all [the] criteria were in place. The practical effect is negligible.”
The new, proposed accommodation is unclear about the exempt status of some ministries.
“The administration actually took away . . . one of the ways we were hoping an exempt organization like the archdiocese, by bringing these other ministries under our health care plan, could be exempt as well,” said Archbishop Naumann. “That clearly has been taken off the board by the administration. So, in some ways this is worse than where we were before.”
The new accommodation offered by the Obama administration offers two changes.
One, it would take away the four-part test of defining a religious entity that would be exempt from the contraception mandate.
Two, it would provide contraceptive coverage for persons who are part of those nonprofit religious entities that do not qualify for the exemption, and without the institutions having to provide the coverage. Instead, the insurance company would pay for it. And how would the insurance company pay for it? From the savings that would come from prevented pregnancies.
“Insurance companies have always charged for these services in the past,” said the archbishop. “They didn’t evidently understand this fiction the administration is putting forward — that if we abort children through abortifacient drugs and give people contraception that it’s really saving. In fact, we know there are some health consequences created by contraception.”
One question is this: Would the church drop its opposition if only the concerns of the institutional church — and not for-profit businesses — were met?
“Absolutely not,” said Archbishop Naumann, “and that is a huge deficiency in this proposal. It does nothing for the individual Catholic employer and employee.”
Currently, the archdiocese is participating in a nationwide Life and Liberty postcard campaign sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The bishops have called upon Catholics, in addition to participating in this postcard campaign, to intensify their efforts in prayer and fasting,” said Archbishop Naumann.
“We’ve asked people to embrace again, if they have not already, abstinence from meat on Fridays for the intentions of the protection of religious liberty and of human life,” he continued. “We encourage parishes to have monthly Holy Hours and families to pray rosaries. Naturally, much of our effort is mobilizing prayer for these intentions.”
Catholics urged to flood congressional mailroom
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Catholics across the archdiocese are joining a nationwide postcard campaign to urge Congress to respect life and protect religious liberty.
In a column published in the Jan. 25 issue of The Leaven, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann wrote about the many Catholic employers now having to act on whether they will comply with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate or not.
The mandate would force them to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilizations — all of which the church teaches are morally objectionable. Thus, many are challenging the HHS mandate in the courts as a violation of their conscience rights.
“The bishops of the United States are urging Catholics to send post cards to U.S. senators and members of Congress,” the archbishop said. “I have informed our pastors that it is my desire for every parish, sometime in February or March, to participate in this postcard campaign.”
The precise way each parish will conduct its campaign will vary, said Ron Kelsey, archdiocesan pro-life office consultant. Some parishes may gather the cards, while others might ask parishioners to take them home and mail them individually.
Postcard campaigns in the past have been very successful, he said.
“We don’t have the Freedom of Choice Act because of the FOCA postcard campaign the USCCB conducted,” said Kelsey.
Those with questions about the campaign may contact Kelsey at (913) 647-0350, or by email at: pro firstname.lastname@example.org.