(CNSNews.com) – In a “Special Message” following their annual meeting in Baltimore, Md., the Catholic bishops of the United States said they “stand united” in opposition to the Obamacare rule that requires nearly all health insurance plans to offer contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs without co-pays.
The bishops said the rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), violates religious liberty and has forced them “to devote and resources to a conflict we did not start or seek.”
The HHS regulation goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, along with many of the major components of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Back in 2012, after the rule was introduced, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called it an “unjust and illegal mandate” that affects individuals as well as employers and is a “violation of personal civil rights.”
In the “Special Message” released at the conclusion of their annual meeting last week, the USCCB said, “[W]ith its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers. Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.”
“Despite our repeated efforts to work and dialogue toward a solution, those problems remain,” said the bishops. “The current impasse is all the more frustrating because the Catholic Church has long been a leading provider of, and advocate for, accessible, life-affirming health care. We would have preferred to spend these recent past years working toward this shared goal instead of resisting this intrusion into our religious liberty. We have been forced to devote time and resources to a conflict we did not start nor seek.”
The USCCB continued, “As the government’s implementation of the mandate against us approaches, we bishops stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom. Even as each bishop struggles to address the mandate, together we are striving to develop alternate avenues of response to this difficult situation. We seek to answer the Gospel call to serve our neighbors, meet our obligation to provide our people with just health insurance, protect our religious freedom, and not be coerced to violate our consciences.”
“It is our hope that our ministries and lay faithful will be able to continue providing insurance in a manner consistent with the faith of our Church,” said the bishops. “We will continue our efforts in Congress and especially with the promising initiatives in the courts to protect the religious freedom that ensures our ability to fulfill the Gospel by serving the common good.”
The HHS mandate applies to nearly all individuals and employers in the United States, with a few exceptions for strictly religious persons or entities, such as a priest or pastor or a religious order. Individuals who object -- for moral, religious, or other reasons -- to paying for health insurance that provides contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs cannot opt-out. They must buy health insurance under the Obamacare law or pay a penalty to the IRS.
The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. As mandated, people who do not get insurance through their employer or from the government (Medicaid, Medicare) are required to apply for coverage through the Obamacare health insurance exchanges or pay a penalty to the IRS.
There are 78 million Catholics in the United States. In February 2012, all 181 Catholic bishops in the United States publicly denounced the Obamacare mandate as a violation of religious liberty under the First Amendment.