Catholic Bishops: Administration Persists With ‘Unjust and Unlawful Mandate’

Terence P. Jeffrey | March 21, 2013 | 5:00pm EDT
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Vice President Joe Biden and his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, meet Pope Francis in this picture provided by L'Osservatore Romano. (AP Photo)

( - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed comments with the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday stating that the regulation that HHS issued under Obamacare that requires most health-care plans in the United States to cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs continues to be an “unjust and unlawful mandate” despite the "accommodations" that the administration proposed last month.

The bishops reiterated their position that "the mandate should rescinded."

"In short," said the bishops' comments, "the Administration continues to propose: (a) un unjust and unlawful mandate; (b) no exemption or 'accommodation' at all for most stakeholders in the health insurance process, such as individual employees and for-profit employers; (c) an unreasonably and unlawfully narrow exemption for some nonprofit religious organizations, mostly houses of worship; and (d) an 'accommodation' that still requires bona fide religious employers that fall outside the narrow government definition of 'religious employer' to fund or facilitate the objectionable coverage."

“The current proposal, like previous ones, would mandate coverage of abortifacient drugs, contraceptives, sterilization procedures for women, and related education and counseling in health plans,” said the comments.

The bishops stressed that the administration’s latest proposed version of the regulation provides no exemption at all to individual Americans, private business owners or non-religious non-profit organizations—whom the administration will still force to purchase coverage for sterilizations, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs even if it is against their religious or moral convictions.

“Under the current proposal, no exemption or accommodation is available at all for the vast majority of individuals or institutional stakeholders with religious or moral objections to contraceptive coverage,” say the comments (noting that the term “contraceptive coverage” here is deemed to include the mandated coverage for sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs).

“Virtually all Americans who enroll in a health plan will ultimately be required to have contraceptive coverage for themselves and their dependents, whether they want it or not,” say the bishops. “Likewise, unless it qualifies as a ‘religious employer,’ every organization that offers a health plan to its employees (including many religious organizations) will be required to fund or facilitate contraceptive coverage, whether or not the employer or its employees object to such coverage. This requirement to fund or facilitate or produces a serious moral problem for these stakeholders.”

The only groups exempted from the mandate are what the Obama administration refers to as “religious employers"--a category the administration restricts to those entities organized under the section of the Internal Revenue Code reserved for houses of worship. Religious hospitals, schools and charities will not be exempted.

Some religiously affiliated non-profits such as hospitals, schools or charities, however, would be given what the administration calls “accommodations.” Under these “accommodations,” the religious non-profit’s insurance provider would be required to create separate secondary cost-free policies for each of the religious non-profit's employees that would provide those employees and their dependents with sterilizations, contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.

If a religious non-profit is self-insured, the “accommodation” would require the third-party administrator of the self-insured plan to recruit an insurance company to provide free sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs to the religious non-profit's employees and their dependents.

“Such organizations and their employees remain deprived of their right to live and work under a health plan consonant with their explicit religious beliefs and commitments,” say the bishops.

What the Obama administration is undertaking, the bishops say, is a sustained and unprecedented attack on religious liberty.

“The mandate continues to represent an unprecedented (and now sustained) violation of religious liberty by the federal government,” they say.

“As applied to individuals and organizations with a religious objection to contraceptive coverage, the mandate violates the First Amendment,” say the bishops.

Last August, the National Catholic Bioethics Center published an analysis recommending that Catholics who own businesses drop health insurance coverage for their employees by January 2014--nine months from now--rather than comply with the administration’s unjust mandate. “Dropping all coverage appears to be the most morally sound approach,” said these Catholic ethicists.

“The ethicists of The National Catholic Bioethics Center believe that temporary compliance with the mandate,coupled with active opposition by all reasonable and  legal means available, is a morally tolerable option only as a last resort, provided that this compliance ends once the insurance exchanges are available to employees in 2014,” they said.

“Beginning in 2014, employers of conscience would drop all coverage, and those with fifty or more full-time equivalent employees would pay the $2,000 tax per employee for not offering insurance as mandated under the PPACA,” they said.

Previously, the Catholic bishops of the United States unanimously issued a statement declaring the regulation an "unjust and illegal mandate," and before that many of the nation's Catholic bishops had priests read letters at Sunday Mass declaring: “We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.”

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