Pelosi Dismisses Catholic Bishops as ‘Lobbyists’—For Opposing Obamacare Reg Forcing Catholics to Act Against Faith

December 1, 2011 - 2:31 PM
Nancy Pelosi

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) on Thursday described America’s Roman Catholic bishops as “lobbyists in Washington, D.C.” in their efforts to persuade the Department of Health and Human Service to rescind a proposed regulation under the new health-care law that would force Catholics to act against the teachings of their church by compelling them to purchase health-care plans that cover sterilizations and all-FDA approved contraceptives, including abortifacients.

The proposed regulation, scheduled to take effect on Aug. 1, 2012, would require every health-insurance plan in the United States to cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives (which include abortifacients) without charging any co-pay. The Catholic Church teaches that sterilization, artificial contraception and abortion are morally wrong and that Catholics cannot be involved in them.

CNSNews.com asked Pelosi at her press briefing on Thursday: “In August, HHS issued a proposed regulation under the new health care law that would require that all health care plans cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives. The U.S. Catholic bishops have called the regulation an unprecedented attack on religious freedom and have asked HHS to drop it. Do you agree with the bishops?” 

Noting that she is “a devout Catholic,” Pelosi said she sometimes disagrees with the Catholic bishops when they act as “lobbyists.”

“I don’t know if I agree with your characterization of what the HHS put forth,” Pelosi said, “but as a mother of five children in six years, as a devout Catholic, I have great respect for our bishops when they are my pastor. As lobbyists in Washington D.C., we have some areas of disagreement.

“Again,” she continued, “I don’t understand the proposal as you described it. So, I won’t be able to answer it. But I do think that it’s important for women to have the opportunity to have full reproductive health options available to them and their insurance wherever they receive it. I support the waiver that is there for the churches now. I don’t know the exception as expanded by what you’re saying there.”

The regulation HHS has proposed includes a “religious exemption” that does not apply to individuals who, under Obamacare, will be mandated to buy health insurance. To qualify as a “religious employer” that will get an exemption an organization must meet all of four criteria: their purpose must be the “inculcation of religious values,” they must “primarily employ persons who share the same religious tenets,” they must “primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets,” and they must be organized under the specific section of the Internal Revenue Code used by churches per se.

As drawn, the exemption from the sterilization-and-contraception mandate would not apply to Catholic individuals, Catholic hospitals, Catholic universities and Catholic charitable organizations. Thus, Catholic individuals would be forced to purchase health insurance plans that pay for sterilizations, contraception and abortifacients, in violation of the the teachings of their church, and Catholic hospitals, universities and charitable organizations would be forced to choose between dropping health insurance for their employees or paying for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients in violation of the teachings of the church. 

In September, the Catholics bishops issued a rare “call to action” that was distributed in church bulletins around the country. The bulletin insert stated that the regulation “poses an unprecedented threat to individual and institutional religious freedom” [italics in original] and called on Catholics to contact HHS and urge that the proposed regulation be rescinded.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also sent its own comments to HHS in which the bishops said: “Indeed, such nationwide government coercion of religious people and groups to sell, broker, or purchase ‘services’ to which they have a moral or religious objection represents an unprecedented attack on religious liberty.”

The bishops' comments noted that ulipristal (or "Ella"), which is an abortifacient, is one of the FDA-approved contraceptives that every health care plan would be required to provide under the proposed regulation.

In addressing the very narrowly drawn religious exemption in the proposed regulation, the bishops told HHS that Jesus Christ would not even qualify for it.

“Under such inexplicably narrow criteria—criteria bearing no reasonable relation to any legitimate (let alone compelling) government purpose—even the ministry of Jesus and the early Christian Church would not qualify as ‘religious,’ because they did not confine their ministry to their co-religionists or engage only in a preaching ministry,” the bishops said. “In effect, the exemption is directly at odds with the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which Jesus teaches concern and assistance for those in need, regardless of faith differences.”

At the White House press briefing on Tuesday, Jake Tapper of ABC News asked White House Spokesman Jay Carney what was going to govern the president’s “decision-making” on whether to impose this proposed regulation on Catholics.

“I’ve heard from a lot of Democrats in the last few weeks who are concerned about President Obama possibly granting an exemption to Catholic churches, hospitals and universities from the requirement that all insurance plans cover contraception,” said Tapper. “I’m wondering if you could shed any light on this decision. I know the President has not yet made a decision, but I think these Democrats, a lot of them in the abortion rights community, are concerned that this is even being discussed.  Could you explain why the President is considering an exemption, and what’s going into his decision-making?”

Carney said the president was undecided on what he was going to do.

“Well, part of the process, Jake, as you know, was seeking and receiving public input before the guidelines that were announced by the Secretary of Health and Human Services would go into effect,” said Carney. “That process did result in public input, as well as resulted in numerous comments from various folks who have concerns about this issue. 

“The President has--this decision has not yet been made,” said Carney. “You can be sure that we want to strike the right balance between expanding coverage of preventive services and respecting religious beliefs.  And that’s the balance that will be sought as this decision is made.”