WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sharply criticized a new HHS "preventive services" mandate requiring private health plans to cover female surgical sterilization and all drugs and devices approved by the FDA as contraceptives, including drugs which can attack a developing unborn child before and after implantation in the mother's womb.
"Although this new 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," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
"For example, under the new rule our 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," Cardinal DiNardo continued. "Could the federal government possibly intend to pressure Catholic institutions to cease providing health care, education and charitable services to the general public? Health care reform should expand access to basic health care for all, not undermine that goal."
"The Administration's failure to create a meaningful conscience exemption to the preventive services mandate underscores the need for Congress to approve the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act," the Cardinal said. That bill (H.R. 1179), introduced by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Dan Boren (D-OK), would prevent mandates under the new health reform law from undermining rights of conscience.
Cardinal DiNardo added: "Catholics are not alone in conscientiously objecting to this mandate. The drugs that Americans would be forced to subsidize under the new rule include Ella, which was approved by the FDA as an 'emergency contraceptive' but can act like the abortion drug RU-486. It can abort an established pregnancy weeks after conception. The pro-life majority of Americans – Catholics and others – would be outraged to learn that their premiums must be used for this purpose."
"HHS says the intent of its 'preventive services' mandate is to help 'stop health problems before they start,'" said Cardinal DiNardo. "But pregnancy is not a disease, and children are not a 'health problem' – they are the next generation of Americans."
"It's now more vital than ever that Congress pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act to close the gaps in conscience protection in the new health care reform act, so employers and employees alike will have the freedom to choose health plans in accordance with their deeply held moral and religious beliefs."
In a July 22 letter supporting the bill, Cardinal DiNardo wrote: "Those who sponsor, purchase and issue health plans should not be forced to violate their deeply held moral and religious convictions in order to take part in the health care system or provide for the needs of their families or their employees. To force such an unacceptable choice would be as much a threat to universal access to health care as it is to freedom of conscience."
The full text of Cardinal DiNardo's letter is available online at www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/religious-liberty/upload/respect-for-rights-of-conscience-act-cardinal-dinardo-letter-to-congress-hr1179-07-22-11.pdf. Cardinal DiNardo also addressed the Institute of Medicine's recommendations on preventive services for women in a July 19 statement: www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2011/11-143.shtml.
SOURCE U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities