The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sharply criticized a new HHS “preventive services” mandate requiring private health plans to cover sterilization and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including drugs which can abort a child before and after implantation in the womb, with no co-pay.
“Although this new rule gives the agency the discretion to authorize a ‘religious’ exemption, it is so narrow as to exclude most Catholic social service agencies and healthcare providers,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
USCCB Communications Director Sr. Mary Ann Walsh was more blunt.
“Health and Human Services must think Catholics and other religious groups are fools,” wrote Walsh on USCCB communications blog Monday.
DiNardo and Walsh explained that the supposed exemption, allowed only for religious organizations primarily employing and serving members of its own faith, was so narrow that it excluded most Catholic agencies and healthcare providers.
“HHS’s reg conveniently ignores the underlying principle of Catholic charitable actions: we help people because we are Catholic, not because our clients are,” wrote Walsh.
“There’s no need to show your baptismal certificate in the hospital emergency room, the parish food pantry, or the diocesan drug rehab program.”
DiNardo pointed out that the FDA’s approval of drugs such as Ella as a “contraceptive” means the mandate will force countless Americans to fund early medical abortions with their premium dollars. Ella is a progesterone reception modulator, the same class of drug as RU-486, which is used for medical abortions.
“The pro-life majority of Americans – Catholics and others – would be outraged to learn that their premiums must be used for this purpose,” said the cardinal.
Cardinal DiNardo urged support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179) to amend the Obama administration’s “failure to create a meaningful conscience exemption,” an omission that could have serious consequences for the Catholic Church in America.
“Could the federal government possibly intend to pressure Catholic institutions to cease providing health care, education and charitable services to the general public?” he asked.
On her blog, Walsh noted that the health department’s tack may be “unduly influenced” by Planned Parenthood’s lobbying, something that would be “no surprise.”
“Contraceptive services make a lot of money for Planned Parenthood clinics, which (again no surprise) provide the ‘services’ HHS has mandated,” wrote Walsh.
The nun also challenged President Obama, who promised last year to respect religious rights under the new health care reform law, to “speak up now” for more protections.
“Whatever you think of artificial birth control, HHS’s command that everyone, including churches, must pay for it exalts ideology over conscience and common sense,” she said.