U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a final regulation on January 20. The rule requires nearly all employers to provide their employees access to health insurance that covers artificial contraception, the “morning after” pill that induces an abortion, sterilization services, and educational support for these “health care” options. The now-issued regulations were released in August 2011, and were surprisingly issued without modification.
Multiple religions have moral objections to at least some of contraceptive services, abortion-inducing pills, sterilization procedures, and patient education/ counseling that must now be part of every employer’s health plan. For example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops states:
A recent edict by HHS is “literally unconscionable.” It demands that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans.”
On February 1, 2012, the White House blog in a post entitled “Health Reform, Preventive Services, and Religious Institutions”, provided half-truths regarding the scope of the rule. The blog said:
Churches are exempt from the new rules: Churches and other houses of worship will be exempt from the requirement to offer insurance that covers contraception.”
But, this is not correct under any realistic application of the rule. Under the HHS regulation, the definition of a religious employer is as follows:
A religious employer is one that: (1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization under Internal Revenue Code…”
Notice that all four requirements listed above are necessary for the exemption. But no one gets health care, social services, or other assistance inside the four walls of a Catholic (or other) house of worship. Consequently, the Administration’s statement quoted above regarding “churches” is fine so long as one realizes how very narrowly those words are written.
In the case of the Catholics, the real work of providing healthcare and social services are hospitals, social service universities, and other public relief organizations that are directly affiliated with and supported by the Catholic Church and Catholics. These Catholic-affiliated organizations support tens of thousands of non-Catholics annually. Similarly, these organizations employ lots of non-Catholics. Because these Catholic entities view their mission as being inclusive of non-Catholics, the Obama Administration concludes that they are not religious organizations. Nothing could be more wrong.
Don’t think that this affects just someone else. For example, the regional hospital that services my community (and well beyond – pictured above) is Catholic run. It fails three of the four HHS requirements, as follows:
- No one admitted to this hospital will be required to attend Catholic education;
- Admitted patients can be of any faith; and
- Many (probably most) of the employees and doctors there are not Catholic.
All residents of my community, and persons of any faith can get treated for anything they want there – except an abortion, a prescription for an abortion-inducing pill, or a sterilization not required by other medical requirements. No one wants this fantastic hospital to shut down or to meet any of the three tests listed above that are now being failed.
Importantly, this issue is not uniquely Catholic, as these requirements equally apply to Methodists, Baptists, and all other denominations that run healthcare social service, and education entities.
This issue is not simply one of misunderstanding or a lack of communication, but an outright rejection by HHS of alternatives suggested by religious leaders willing to compromise. For example, Melissa Rogers is director of Wake Forest University Divinity School’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs. Wake Forest is a Baptist-affiliated university. She describes one alternative as follows:
The state of Hawaii’s contraceptive coverage law has some of the same defects as the interim federal rule. But it appears to have taken some noteworthy steps to ensure that employees of objecting religious organizations may readily gain access to affordable coverage of contraceptives. Under Hawaii law, religious employers that decline to cover contraceptives must provide written notification to enrollees disclosing that fact and describing alternate ways for enrollees to access coverage for contraceptive services. Hawaii law also requires health insurers to allow enrollees in a health plan of an objecting religious employer to purchase coverage of contraceptive services directly and to do so at a cost that does not exceed “the enrollee’s pro rata share of the price the group purchaser would have paid for such coverage had the group plan not invoked a religious exemption.” A New York law has similar provisions.”
But the Obama Administration rejected such a compromise, stating that they did not have the authority to do so. This is a bewildering statement from an Administration that has so aggressively promoted its goals by executive fiat without Congressional input.
Of course, there are practical reasons for having wide access to abortions, contraception and sterilization. Most teen pregnancies are unplanned, and these unplanned pregnancies cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually in other relief and welfare services. Reducing unintended pregnancies will lessen these other government costs. I am all for saving government costs. But, this practical consideration does not allow one to stomp on religious beliefs involving what others say are a moral issue. If costs were the only consideration, practically every entitlement and social service program currently offered by every branch of American government should be eliminated. Instead of being cost-driven, the Obama Administration decided that some religious beliefs are less important than their other goals.
Liberals and progressives should be outraged at this action. It is easy to talk about civil rights when speaking about something with which you personally agree. But, you earn your civil rights badge when considering the rights of others with whom you disagree. You may not agree with the abortion and contraceptive teachings of certain religions. But if you respect American freedoms at all, you must agree with others’ right to exercise their religious beliefs without being dictated otherwise by any American-based government.
Under this approach, what prevents the Obama Administration from stomping on whatever belief you might have? And, if you are so in sync with Barack Obama that you cannot imagine ever having his administration disagree with you, then contemplate the precedent that will have been created for the time when someone else is in office.