by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Coercive rules about preventive care have prompted the Kansas bishops to write to Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In a letter sent to the former Kansas governor on Sept. 26, the bishops expressed “emphatic opposition” to the final rule on preventive service. These rules implement part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The new rules require almost all private health care plans to cover things that Catholics consider morally objectionable — contraception, sterilization and abortifacients — at no cost.
“Obviously, those are not areas of disease,” said Ron Kelsey, archdiocesan consultant for pro-life ministry. “The bishops have written to former governor Sebelius, pointing out the flaws in the HHS mandate, and stating that it should be rescinded immediately and entirely.”
Anyone who is in the plan will pay for these morally objectionable things, said Kelsey. Religious exemptions are provided for, but they are so weak as to be meaningless.
“The bishops point out in their letter that there are several problems with this,” he said. “It provides coverage of at least one abortifacient drug, and that is contrary to existing federal law.”
“It’s also an affront to the First Amendment religious liberty of individuals and organizations that object to [these things],” said Kelsey. “Quite frankly, one would have to suspect that this is specifically targeted at the Catholic Church.”
The Kansas bishops are not alone in their concern. On Sept. 30, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops formed a new ad hoc committee for religious liberty.
The USCCB committee was formed to address increasing threats to religious liberty, among them being the new HHS regulations. The Kansas bishops see these regulations as part of an agenda to define religious freedom in its most narrow sense.
“What can we expect? Quite frankly, I’m not very hopeful, because we have a radically pro-abortion president and a radically pro-abortion secretary of HHS,” said Kelsey. “Both of [them] have a strong support base from pro-abortion organizations like Planned Parenthood.”
The best course of action now is to support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179/S. 1467) in the U.S. Congress, said Kelsey.
“That measure will ensure that those individuals who participate in the health care system will be able to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions,” said Kelsey. “We need to establish in federal law the respect for rights of conscience. This law would trump any HHS mandate.”
Dear Secretary Sebelius:
We pray for wisdom for all those who serve in public life. As the former governor of Kansas and as a Catholic, you hold a special place in our prayers. With your important responsibilities as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, we ask the Lord to inspire your efforts to protect the health and promote the welfare of all Americans. We also ask the Lord to give you the courage to uphold the sanctity of all human life and to reject the temptation to use immoral means to achieve the worthy goal of reforming America’s health care system.
We are writing to express our emphatic opposition to the interim final rule on preventive services issued by your department on Aug. 3, 2011. The HHS mandate is profoundly deficient in terms of medical, moral, and constitutional good sense. It should be rescinded entirely and immediately.
The HHS mandate, which requires all health plans to cover prescription contraceptives and sterilization, purports to advance the cause of “preventive” medicine. However, the services covered by the mandate do not protect patients from sickness or disease. Rather, they function to disrupt the healthy functioning of the reproductive system by preventing pregnancy which, unlike the flu, for example, is not an illness.
Particularly disturbing is the fact that the mandate requires coverage of at least one abortifacient drug that can act to end a pregnancy after fertilization, despite the many assurances from the administration that the health care reform legislation would not mandate abortion coverage, and despite the fact that federal law forbids such an abortion mandate. Because the HHS mandate forbids insurers from charging the co-pays and deductibles that are routinely assessed for even lifesaving treatment, the costs of providing contraceptives, sterilizations, and covered abortifacients “for free” will be passed on to consumers and taxpayers, regardless of their moral objections.
We believe that the new mandate is an affront to the First Amendment freedoms of religious individuals and organizations that object to contraceptives and sterilization. The mandate’s extraordinarily narrow religious exemption provides no protection at all for individuals or insurers with such objections, and will not apply to Catholic universities, hospitals, and charitable organizations that serve the general public. As a result, many Catholic institutions have no choice but to cease providing employee health care coverage altogether. It is difficult to see how this advances the cause of health care for all.
Instead, this policy appears to be in the service of a different agenda, one that would define freedom of religion down to mean nothing more than the freedom to worship in private. While the HHS mandate is undoubtedly a welcome development financially for organizations like Planned Parenthood that deal in these services and lobbied for the policy’s adoption, it is also surely to be warmly received by those who are uncomfortable with the vital contribution religious institutions make to our national life. It is clear that the implications of this new policy transcend the question of accessibility of contraceptive services, which are already ubiquitous, and betray a minimalist understanding of religious freedom.
In August of this year, the federal government ordered millions of Americans to be complicit in the acquisition of contraceptive, sterilization, and abortion services, regardless of their religious and moral objections. This should give all Americans pause. Indeed, it was precisely against this sort of heavy-handed exercise of federal power that the First Amendment was written. Madame Secretary, we urge you and your colleagues in the administration to reconsider this radical departure from our country’s storied tradition of respect for religious liberty. The mandate as proposed will serve to build opposition to the implementation of health care reform for which this administration labored. Using health care reform to trample on religious liberty and specifically to marginalize Catholic health care providers is ill-advised. Please rescind this mandate as soon as possible.
With gratitude for your consideration of our concerns and with prayers or the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your important responsibilities, we are
Most Reverend Joseph F. Naumann
Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas
Most Reverend Michael O. Jackels
Bishop of Wichita
Most Reverend John B. Brungardt
Bishop of Dodge City
Very Reverent Barry E. Brinkman
Diocesan Administrator of Salina