by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Did anybody think when President Obama and the Congress were reforming health care that the real crisis they were attempting to solve was an insufficient supply of contraceptive and abortifacient drugs available to Americans?
If these were such critical issues, it seems odd that in the thousands of pages of text for the Affordable Health Care Act there is no mention of the fact that religious institutions and individu- als were going to be coerced against their conscience to provide so-called “preventive health services.” Did anyone think that health care reform meant
an abdication of religious freedom and conscience rights?
Actually, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed the health care reform act because the president and the congressional leadership refused to write into the bill the usual legislative language to exclude abortion and to protect conscience rights. President Obama’s HHS mandates confirmed our fears.
After the firestorm created by the HHS mandates, the president announced last Friday an accommodation, which he claimed solved the problem. As of this writing, there are still very few details on the president’s proposal. If we have learned anything in dealing with the current administration, the devil is in the details.
The president apparently has proposed that insurance companies, which provide the health care coverage for religious institutions, will be obligated to provide contraceptives, sterilizations and abortifacient drugs free of charge to those insured by religious institutions. Does anyone believe that the insurance company will not pass this cost on to their clients — the religious institution? This is why Mary Ann Glendon (a Harvard Law professor), Robert George (Princeton philosophy professor), and John Garvey (president of Catholic University) have said:
“This so-called accommodation changes nothing of moral substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience which gave rise to the controversy. . . . Under the new rule, the government still coerces religious institutions and individuals to purchase insurance policies that include the very same services. . . . It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept an assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick.”
Of course, the proposed accommodation appears to do nothing for religious institutions that are self-insured. It also does nothing for small business owners who consider contraception, abortion and sterilization moral evils. Moreover, it seems to exclude Catholics and others who object to abortifacient drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization from being able to provide insurance.
At this point, the assurances of the president to the contrary do not provide much comfort. Frankly, the president has a credibility gap. He promised at Notre Dame that he would protect con- science rights. Yet, his administration has attempted to push forward the most blatant violation by the federal government of the First Amendment in our nation’s history. President Obama promised pro-life Democrats that his health care reform would not fund abortions. Yet, his Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary has defined ella — an abortifacient morning-after pill — to be a mandated “preventive health service.” After two weeks of stonewalling the objections of Catholic bishops and thousands of other people of faith over the finality of the HHS mandate promulgated on Jan. 20, the president tried to make everyone believe he intended a year of dialogue to work out an acceptable solution.
Why is this a big deal? First of all, if the federal government can force the Catholic Church to provide contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients as part of a health plan, what will prevent them from trampling on the religious liberty and conscience rights of others? Moreover, the classification of contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilizations as preventive health care means that pregnancy and women’s fertility have been classified as a disease. What if the preventive health care fails?
Abby Johnson, author of the book “Unplanned” and the former Employee of the Year for Planned Parenthood of Southeast Texas, has revealed that 50 percent of the abortion clients at her clinic were using contraceptives prior to the pregnancy. Does abortion become the ultimate “cure” for the “disease” of an unwanted pregnancy? How long before all forms of surgical and chemical abortion become mandated health care?
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and President Obama assert that if you are against abortion, then you should be in favor of the widespread distribution of contraception. On the surface, there even seems to be a certain logic to their position. Yet, the experience of the last 40- plus years has shown just the opposite. The widespread availability of contraception has resulted in a society with more than a million abortions annually, one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the world, and epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases.
Many supported the availability of contraception for noble reasons. They saw it as a help to married couples, who were overwhelmed and stressed with their parental responsibilities. Some felt it was the only response to the panic created by the fear of overpopulation. They did not foresee the unintended consequences of tampering with God’s design by separating the life-giving and love-giving components of our human sexuality.
It is no surprise that Planned Parenthood appears to be the architect of the Obama-Sebelius health care plan. Planned Parenthood is the strongest advocate in America for contraception and also, by the way, the largest abortion provider. More than 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenues come from abortion. Johnson, former Planned Parenthood clinic director, left Planned Parenthood because of the pressure placed upon her to increase the number of abortions at her clinic.
Some have mistakenly characterized the current debate as the Catholic Church attempting to deprive women of the availability of contraceptives. This is a complete misreading of the current situation. This is not a controversy the church initiated. The federal government already heavily subsidizes the provision of contraceptives for the poor. This is not a debate about increasing or decreasing such funding. This is a fight the president has chosen to provoke by insisting on making the church complicit in providing contraception to its own employees.
Michelle Obama is to be commended for her efforts to fight childhood obesity. She has encouraged American youth to exercise more and eat healthily — both forms of self-discipline. To my knowledge, she is not promoting magic diet pills or stomach surgery as preventive health care for obesity. Perhaps, she can influence her husband to take a similar approach in promoting healthy sexual behavior for youth and adults. Maybe then the president could propose a health care policy that respects conscience rights and religious liberty.