The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a new notice of proposed rulemaking on February 1, with a comment period ending April 8. The rules seemingly broaden the definition of “religious employer” to exempt more groups from the requirement that health insurance plans must fully cover contraception. Churches and denominations were already directly exempt from providing coverage under Obamacare's contraceptive mandate. The proposal could mean that nonprofit religiously-affiliated hospitals, charities, and universities would be exempt along with churches and other religious organizations. Insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage separately to these groups’ employees so that the religious employers do not have to do so directly.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and other right-wing religious groups continue to object to the Obama administration’s plan for insurance coverage of contraception, despite the administration’s recent compromise broadening coverage exceptions for religious groups. The proposed rules provide women with coverage of preventive care that includes services with no co-pays. But, according to a news release by HHS, it has adopted new rules that also respect “the concerns of some religious organizations.”
While this proposal concedes a lot of ground to religious groups, many of them are still vigorously opposed to it. A few for-profit companies run by religious CEOs who have religious objections are mad that they are still required to provide coverage. But, as usual, it is Catholic Bishops making the most noise. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan is still calling “illicit” the idea that women employees at a Catholic hospital, for instance, would be ensured via a separate plan. Dolan, president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the proposal “appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education, and Catholic charities.”
In fact, it’s women who are being offered second-class status by the Catholic Church and other religious groups who want special dispensation to impose their religious views on their secular employees and the public at large. Dolan said that Catholics should not “be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.” Considering that 98% of Catholic women, and 99% of all women, have used contraception, it seems that most of the consciences “violated” by contraception use belong to the celibate men of the bishops’ conference.
Dolan contends that since Catholic hospitals, colleges, and charities are “integral to our church,” they are “worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches.” However, many of these institutions, especially hospitals, include non-Catholic employees and exist to serve the public at large and receive huge infusions of public funding. Religious freedom does not give them the right to tyrannically impose irrational religious beliefs on anyone, especially people who may not even of the same religion.
For a reminder of how outrageous the Catholic Church's position on contraception is, see this week's article, "Boston College Cracks Down on Condoms," reporting that distributing condoms on the Jesuit campus is now grounds for expulsion.
ACT TODAY! COMMENTS ARE DUE ON OR BEFORE APRIL 8
Submit a formal comment now, before April 8, for your view to be counted.
(Your own words are best but feel free to copy and paste)
HHS should stand up to Catholic bishops on contraceptive health care. Health care must not be based on dogma but on need. Religious leaders must not be permitted to impose their personal religious views on those of other religions or viewpoints. A religious employer should not be able to deny a woman employee preventive contraceptive care.
Catholic and other religious institutions such as hospitals, colleges and charities often receive vast infusions of public funds, hire non-Catholic employees and exist to serve the public at large. They must not be allowed to discriminate against women. HHS is to be congratulated for its decision a year ago to put women's rights above bishops' wrongs. Please do not jeopardize women’s rights to appease the bishops.