by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Catholics across the archdiocese will be asked by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann to resist an attack on individual conscience rights and religious liberty undertaken by the Obama administration.
This call to action for all Catholics is contained in a Jan. 30 letter the archbishop has asked all pastors to read and distribute to parishioners the weekend of Feb. 4 and 5. Other Catholic bishops in the United States have written similar letters.
Archbishop Naumann and other bishops oppose a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that is part of the 2010 federal health care reform law — the Patient Protection and Affordability Act.
Under HHS rules, all private health care plans would be required to cover contraception and sterilization as preventive care for women. All contraceptive methods — including certain abortifacients — would be covered without co-pays or other cost sharing.
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Jan. 20 that almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees health coverage that includes sterilization, abortioninducing drugs, and contraception,” wrote Archbishop Naumann. “Almost all health insurers will be forced to buy that coverage as part of their policies.”
The archbishop said this is an impossible situation that Catholics cannot accept and must resist.
“We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law,” wrote the archbishop.
The HHS rules provide a religious exception, but it is so restrictive as to be meaningless, said Ron Kelsey, archdiocesan pro-life coordinator.
“In the proposed rules, [HHS] allowed an extremely narrow religious exemption clause so certain religious entities wouldn’t have to comply,” said Kelsey. “But it was written so narrowly that — as one bishop said — even Christ in his ministry would not qualify for this exemption. It’s really so narrow that it’s essentially nonexistent.”
Kelsey said the HHS rulings constitute a major attack on religious freedom and conscience rights.
“This is because an individual now — and Catholic organizations and other church-related [entities] — cannot buy an insurance plan that will not cover certain abortifacient drugs, sterilizations and contraceptives,” he said. “Virtually all plans must have those, regardless of one’s religious faith.”
The situation is also difficult for individual Catholics, both employers and employees in private business. They, too, would also be forced to participate in these plans, said Kelsey. Here again the HHS religious exemptions provide absolutely no protection for rights of conscience or religious rights.
The archbishop concluded his letter by asking Catholics to fast and pray, and to learn more by going to the bishops’ website at: www.usccb.org/conscience. He also urged Catholics to contact their senators and representatives and insist on legislation that would overturn the Obama administration’s decisions.