by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Could Catholics and Catholic institutions be forced to support birth control, sterilizations and chemical abortions?
It could happen, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is urging Catholics to speak out now, while their input can still make a difference.
The bishops are concerned that religious liberty and the rights of individual conscience could be denied by implementation of a part of the 2010 federal health care reform law (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act).
With this law, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has drawn up regulations concerning preventive care for women.
Under these HHS rules, all private health care plans would be required to cover contraception and sterilization as preventive care for women. All contraceptive methods — including those that cause an early abortion by chemical means — would be paid for.
Individuals and groups with religious or moral objections to such “preventive services” would be forced to purchase and provide this coverage if they receive or provide health care coverage.
“This is a significant departure from what has been done in the past,” said Ron Kelsey, archdiocesan pro-life consultant. “It, for the first time, covers abortifacient drugs, including ‘ella,’ which is falsely promoted as a contraceptive. In reality, it’s a chemical cousin of the RU-486 abortion drug.”
“What [the regulations] say is that all those so-called services are to be provided in private health care plans with no cost to the individuals,” he continued. “[It would not require] co-pays or deductibles — nothing. It’s 100 percent covered in all private health care plans.”
A religious exemption is provided for, but it’s so narrow that it covers almost no one, according to the bishops.
The HHS religious exemption only covers a religious employer that has the “inculcation of religious values” as its purpose, primarily employs and serves persons who share its religious tenets, and is a church organization under two narrow provisions of the tax code.
Many Catholic organizations would not be protected by this narrow exemption, including universities and colleges, hospitals, and charitable institutions that serve the public.
This mandate would, in effect, force individual Catholics who are part of such an insurance plan to pay for morally objectionable health care services.
“Since insurance companies would be forced to provide those services,” said Kelsey, “the cost [of coverage] is spread among all [individuals] who are insured, and so we are thereby paying for other people’s contraceptives, emergency contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacient drugs.”
As an alternative to this, individuals could have riders on standard insurance plans that they could purchase if they so wished to have coverage for the aforementioned, he said.
“Another problematic thing that is not mentioned is that, even if there is a stronger religious exemption [for organizations], it will not apply for businesses,” said Kelsey. “In Kansas, we’ve just passed legislation that would do exactly the opposite [of these HHS regulations].”
Kelsey is concerned that this is a slippery slope toward backdoor funding of abortion.
“We’ve already seen, with this regulation, that chemical abortions have been introduced as mandatory coverage,” said Kelsey. “Therefore, if you are a drug manufacturer, you would be tempted to classify any new abortion drug as a so-called ‘emergency contraception,’ so it would be covered under health insurance plans.”
It’s not too late to oppose this mandate, said Kelsey. The HHS is required to have a public comment period on these regulations ending on Sept. 30.
Due to the short time left, Catholics are urged to send an email of opposition to HHS by visiting the website in the sidebar above. Persons who do this will also be able to contact representatives in the U.S. Congress and urge support for the Respect of Rights of Conscience Act, H.R. 1179 and S. 1467.
Catholics are urged to oppose the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services mandate before Sept. 30 by going to the website at: www.usccb.org/conscience. Here is a sample message you can use:
“Pregnancy is not a disease, and drugs and surgery to prevent it are not basic health care that the government should require all Americans to purchase. Please remove sterilization and prescription contraceptives from the list of ‘preventive services’ the federal government is mandating in private health plans. It is especially important to exclude any drug that may cause an early abortion, and to fully respect religious freedom as other federal laws do. The narrow religious exemption in HHS’s new rule protects almost no one. I urge you to allow all organizations and individuals to offer, sponsor and obtain health coverage that does not violate their moral and religious convictions.”