Taking advantage of the public comment period offer before the recommendation goes into effect, the nation’s Catholic bishops are urging the Obama administration to reverse a decision that forces insurance companies to pay for birth control and drugs that can cause abortions under the Obamacare government-run health care program.
In August, Obama officials tentatively approved a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine, opposed by pro-life groups, that called for the Obama administration to require insurance programs to include birth control — such as the morning after pill or the ella drug that causes an abortion days after conception — in the section of drugs and services insurance plans must cover under “preventative care.” The companies will likely pass the added costs on to consumers, requiring them to pay for birth control and, in some instances, drug-induced abortions of unborn children in their earliest days.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it accepted the IOM guidelines that “require new health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive services” and those services include “FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling” — which include birth control drugs like Plan B and ella that can cause abortions. The Health and Human Services Department commissioned the report from the Institute, which advises the federal government and shut out pro-life groups in meetings leading up to the recommendations.
Now, the legal counsel for the Catholic bishops has submitted a 35-page comment saying the Obama administration’s decision “represents an unprecedented attack on religious liberty” and creates “serious moral problems” that are sufficient for it to not adopt the IOM recommendations. The Department of Health and Human Services has given the public until the end of the month to comment on the tentative decision to adopt the recommendations.
“Only rescission will eliminate all of the serious moral problems the mandate creates,” Anthony Picarello Jr. and Michael Moses, general counsel and associate general counsel, said. “Only rescission will correct HHS’ legally flawed interpretation of the term ‘preventive services.’“
The attorneys also said the bishops are concerned about the weak religious exemptions in the proposal.
The HHS statement also said, “The administration also released an amendment to the prevention regulation that allows religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services. This regulation is modeled on the most common accommodation for churches available in the majority of the 28 states that already require insurance companies to cover contraception. HHS welcomes comment on this policy.”
Those exemptions would include a nonprofit religious employers that has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose, primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets, and serves persons who share its religious tenets. However, although the 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. For example, under the new rule, Catholic institutions would be free to act in accord with Catholic teaching on life and procreation only if they were to stop hiring and serving non-Catholics.
The USCCB attorneys said the weak protection “represents an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government into the precincts of religion that, if unchecked here, will support ever more expansive and corrosive intrusions in the future.”
“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,” they said. “The government has no business engaging in religious gerrymanders, whereby some churches are ‘in’ and others are ‘out’ for regulatory purposes based on who their teaching calls them to serve, how they constitute their workforce or whether they engage in ‘hard-nosed proselytizing.”
“Church agencies with the temerity (in the government’s view) to hire and serve persons other than their own members are penalized by the HHS exemption or, alternatively, forced to fire nonmembers and withdraw from or limit public service,” they said. “Such a forced choice is offensive, discriminatory and unconstitutional.”