MN Catholic Conference notes concerns over compromise on contraceptive mandate

| February 10, 2012 | 1 Comment

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement at the White House in Washington Feb. 10 about the federal mandate on contraceptive coverage. CNS photo/Larry Downing, Reuters

The Minnesota Catholic Conference expressed concerns with amendments announced Feb. 10 by President Barack Obama to a federal mandate that all health insurance plans include contraception and sterilization free of charge.

The plan outlined by the president would allow religious employers not to offer such services to their employees but would compel insurance companies to do so.

“We are awaiting the details and are reserving judgment, but today’s amendments do not seem to be a true reversal of an unwise and unjust policy,” Jason Adkins, MCC executive director, said in a press release following the president’s announcement.

“Although a step in the right direction, this ‘compromise’ still appears to ignore the First Amendment rights of individual business owners and other non-institutional PPACA [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] payers who, for moral or religious reasons, object to providing contraception, abortion drugs and sterilizations,” he said.

Prior to the imposition of the rule, employers were not required to cover so-called “preventive services” such as contraception and sterilization in their health plans, he said.

“The HHS mandate presents a religious freedom issue, not a contraception issue,” Adkins added. “No one’s access to contraception is threatened — any employer who wants to provide contraceptive coverage to employees is free to do so, and anyone can get it at the drug store.”

The MCC, which advocates on behalf of the state’s bishops for public policies and programs that support the life and dignity of every human person, continues to encourage people to contact their senators and congresspersons and ask them to support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (HR 1179 / S.1467).

Other reaction

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called Obama’s announcement “a first step in the right direction,” but said “we reserve judgment on the details until we have them.”

“We hope to work with the administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations,” he added.

The USCCB president said Americans of all faiths and of no faith had responded with “remarkable unity” against the mandate by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because they were “worried about the erosion of religious freedom and governmental intrusion into issues of faith and morals.”

Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, praised what she called “a resolution . . . that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions.”

“The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed,” she said in a statement. “We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished.”

But U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a Catholic who has co-chaired the bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus since 1982, said the policy announced by Obama “is the discredited old policy, dressed up to look like something else.”

He said the requirement that insurance companies provide contraception and sterilization free of charge to all employees of religious organizations would still place the cost ultimately on the religious employers. “Who pays for the insurance policy?” he asked. “The religious employer.”

Obama said he had spoken to Catholic officials directly “from the very beginning of this process” and had promised them that “we would spend the next year working with institutions like Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities to find an equitable solution that protects religious liberty and ensures that every woman has access to the care that she needs.”

He said the policy announced Jan. 20 had prompted “many genuine concerns, … as well as, frankly, the more cynical desire on the part of some to make this into a political football.” Because of that, Obama said, he directed HHS “to speed up the process that had already been envisioned.”

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the final rule was to be published in the Federal Register later Feb. 10.

(This story contains information from Catholic News Service.)

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