American Bishops Respond Swiftly and Decisively; the Issue is Far from Over; I’m Proud of Them!!

by Steve Ray on February 11, 2012

US Bishops: Obama’s ‘Compromise’ Has No Clear Protection for Key Stakeholders

“Today’s Proposal Continues to Involve Needless Government Intrusion”

WASHINGTON, D.C., FEB. 10, 2012 ( The U.S. bishops say the proposal made today by President Barack Obama’s administration regarding the mandate to cover abortifacients, sterilization and contraception “continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions.”

Obama’s proposal came after widespread and energetic condemnation of the Jan. 20 announcement that employers must include abortifacients in the health care plans offered to their employees as part of “preventative care.”

“The Catholic bishops have long supported access to life-affirming healthcare for all, and the conscience rights of everyone involved in the complex process of providing that healthcare,” the bishops’ statement began. “That is why we raised two serious objections to the ‘preventive services’ regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in August 2011,” [and confirmed Jan. 20.]

“All the other mandated ‘preventive services’ prevent disease, and pregnancy is not a disease,” they observed. “Moreover, forcing plans to cover abortifacients violates existing federal conscience laws. Therefore, we called for the rescission of the mandate altogether.”

Then, the prelates explained, they opposed the burden placed on the consciences of “insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage.”

“We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders — not just the extremely small subset of ‘religious employers’ that HHS proposed to exempt initially.”

Anything new?

The communiqué then explains what the president’s proposal today implies.

“First, he has decided to retain HHS’s nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients. This is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern. We cannot fail to reiterate this, even as so many would focus exclusively on the question of religious liberty.

“Second, the President has announced some changes in how that mandate will be administered, which is still unclear in its details.”

The bishops said that a preliminary study of the proposal indicates that it “would still mandate that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write. At this point, it would appear that self-insuring religious employers, and religious insurance companies, are not exempt from this mandate. It would allow non-profit, religious employers to declare that they do not offer such coverage. But the employee and insurer may separately agree to add that coverage. The employee would not have to pay any additional amount to obtain this coverage, and the coverage would be provided as a part of the employer’s policy, not as a separate rider.”

The U.S. bishops said that these changes need “careful moral analysis” and “moreover, appear subject to some measure of change.”

“But,” they stated, “we note at the outset that the lack of clear protection for key stakeholders — for self-insured religious employers; for religious and secular for-profit employers; for secular non-profit employers; for religious insurers; and for individuals — is unacceptable and must be corrected. And in the case where the employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage, that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer’s plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer. This, too, raises serious moral concerns.”

The bishops said that parts of the information on Obama’s proposal are in writing and other elements have only been explained orally.

“We will, of course, continue to press for the greatest conscience protection we can secure from the Executive Branch. But stepping away from the particulars, we note that today’s proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions. In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters. The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.”

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug Indeap February 11, 2012 at 4:50 PM

Arguments for a “religious employer” exemption have gone from wrong to ridiculous.

Those demanding such an exemption initially worked themselves into a lather with the false claim that the law forced employers to provide their employees with health care plans offering services the employers considered immoral. The fact is that employers have the option of not providing any such plans and instead simply paying assessments to the government. Unless one supposes that the employers’ religion forbids payments of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion), then the law’s requirement to pay assessments does not compel those employers to act contrary to their beliefs. Problem solved–except perhaps for an employer who really desires not just to avoid a moral bind, but rather wants to retain control of his employees’ health plans, limit their choices to conform to the employer’s religious beliefs, and avoid paying the assessments that otherwise would be owed. For that, an employer would need an exemption from the law.

Indeed, some continued clamoring for just such an exemption, complaining that by paying assessments they would be paying for the very things they opposed. They seemingly missed that that is not a moral dilemma justifying an exemption to avoid being forced to act contrary to one’s beliefs, but rather is a gripe common to most taxpayers–who don’t much like paying taxes and who object to this or that action the government may take with the benefit of their tax dollars. Should each of us be exempted from paying our taxes so we aren’t thereby “forced” to pay for a war, health care, or whatever else the government does that each of us may consider wrong or even immoral?

In any event, they put up enough of a stink that the government relented and announced that religious employers would be free to provide health plans with provisions to their liking and not be required to pay the assessments otherwise required. Problem solved–again, even more.

Nonetheless, some continue to complain. They fret that somehow religious employers ultimately will pay for the services they oppose. They argue that if insurers (or, by the same logic, anyone, e.g., employees) pay for such services, those costs will somehow, someday be passed on to the employers in the form of demands for higher insurance premiums or higher wages. They counter what they call the government’s “accounting gimmick” with one of their own: the “Catholic dollar.” These dollars, once paid by a religious employer to others, e.g., insurers or employees, should be used only for things the religious employer would approve. The religious employers’ aim, we are assured, is not to control the actions of others, oh no, but rather is merely to assure that the employers themselves have not somehow acted contrary to their
own beliefs by loosing “their” dollars into hands that would use them for things no self-respecting religious employer would himself buy. Their religious liberty, they say, requires not only that they be exempted from the law, but further that anyone to whom they pay money also be exempted and thus “free” to act according to their desires.

I wonder what they would say if they knew they had some of my “atheist dollars” in their wallets that can only be used for ungodly purposes, lest I suffer the indignity of paying for things I disbelieve.

Bill912 February 12, 2012 at 9:21 AM

“Assessment”? I guess that’s a nicer word than “fine”; whatever word is used, it still means paying a penalty for obeying one’s religion.

First, they came for the Catholics.

stan chaz February 12, 2012 at 8:03 PM

STEVE RAY HERE: Stan, you are missing the whole point. It is not about what we want to pay money for, it is a matter of religious liberty. We have a history in this country and documents that laid the foundation. No president in the past would have assumed to a Emperor the way Obama is conducting himself. It is not just Catholics who see this as an egregious encroachment on our first freedoms, but many others including even liberal, anti-Catholics. You need to do more homework on this my friend.

Stan wrote: I was raised as a Catholic. Or perhaps lowered. :-) Whatever. But seriously… I strongly disagree with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops statement, which denounces President Barack Obama’s attempts at compromise as “needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions”. On the contrary, the Bishops comments are themselves a needless religious intrusion upon the proper and legitimate functions of government…functions that serve to promote women’s rights, and equality, and fairness for ALL. No one is coming into our Churches and trying to tell parishioners what to believe. BUT If the Bishops want to start businesses that employ millions of people of varying faiths -or no “faith” at all- THEN they must play by the rules. Just because a religious group in America claims to believe something, we cannot excuse them from obeying the law in the PUBLIC arena, based on that belief. They can legally attempt to change the law, not to deny it outright. And if they want to plunge overtly into politics from the pulpit, then they should give up their tax-exempt status. Did I miss something, or when it comes to the “sanctity of life”, is every single righteous Catholic still a card carrying conscientious objector, refusing to take up arms, totally against the death penalty, and contraception in all its forms? Oh well, hypocrisy is often at the heart of politics, and politics masquerading as religion even more so. This country is an invigorating mixture of all the diversity that life has to offer, drawing its strength FROM that diversity. We need to work together to preserve, enrich, and strengthen this unique experiment – NOT to tear it down with poisonous, paralyzing, and un-Christian demonization of each other.

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