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State contraceptive mandates widespread but not as broad as HHS plan


By Nancy Frazier O’Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In more than half of the states, Catholic officials have been living for years with mandates that health insurance plans must cover FDA-approved contraceptives in their prescription drug plans.

Seventeen of the 28 states that require contraception coverage have some sort of religious exemption for employers, but few of the exemptions are quite as narrow as the one proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services when it announced Aug. 1 that contraceptives and sterilization will be among the mandated preventive services for women under the new health reform law.

Under the proposal, only religious employers meeting four criteria would be exempt from providing contraceptives and female sterilization through their health plans. Those requirements are that the organization “(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a nonprofit organization” under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code.

An HHS spokeswoman told Catholic News Service that all four criteria must be met in order for the religious exemption to apply. She said the HHS exemption was based on “the most commonly used” wording in seven states, but said she could not name the seven states involved.

Religious freedom experts say the HHS exemption could leave out faith-based social service agencies, health care providers and even Catholic schools and colleges with majority non-Catholic enrollment.

Twice in the past decade, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear appeals of state court rulings that said church agencies could not be exempt from laws requiring coverage of contraceptives. In 2007 it let stand New York state’s Women Health and Wellness Act of 2002; three years earlier it rejected a similar appeal by Catholic Charities of Sacramento of a California law requiring prescription coverage to include contraceptives.

But most existing state mandates often do not apply to self-insured health plans, plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 and plans that did not cover prescriptions at all, according to Michael F. Moses, associate general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He called the proposed HHS exemption “the narrowest religious exemption we’ve ever seen proposed in federal law,” noting that it doesn’t cover any individual, any religiously affiliated plan offered to the general public, any religious employer whose purpose is other than the inculcation of religious values, any religious employer that serves the public or any religious organization that doesn’t primarily employ persons who share the organization’s religious tenets.

Church teaching holds that artificial contraception is sinful and prescription insurance coverage for employees of church institutions routinely exempts coverage for birth control pills, just as employee health insurance exempts coverage for abortion, sterilization and other procedures the church considers immoral.

Of even greater concern to church officials in recent years has been the fact that drugs labeled contraceptives by the Food and Drug Administration now include “emergency contraception” drugs ella and Plan B, which can cause an abortion.

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, told CNS that although the HHS announcement said the contraceptive mandate does “not include abortifacient drugs,” the agency is simply denying “that a drug that can prevent the survival of a new embryo before implantation is an ‘abortion,’ because federal law does not define abortion that way.”

But, he added, “it is seen as abortion in Catholic teaching and the views of many pro-life Americans.”

In addition, ella “is a close analog to the abortion drug RU-486 and is shown in studies to be capable of disrupting even an established (implanted) pregnancy,” Doerflinger said. “But the FDA never clearly acknowledged this reality when it approved the drug, treating it solely as preventing pregnancy.”

Editor’s Note: The 28 states requiring that contraception coverage be included in prescription drug plans are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The 17 states with a religious exemption for employers are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

Missouri allows any employer, religious or secular, to seek an exemption from the contraceptive coverage mandate. Nevada has a religious exemption for insurers.

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Catholic Charities USA VP Writes Op-Ed on EFSP

Catholic Charities USA Sr. Vice President for Social Policy and Government Affairs Candy Hill signed an editorial with leaders of other national non-profit organizations calling on government leaders to preserve funding for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program. The 2011 budget passed by Congress eliminates funding to programs in more than 500 counties and cities and significantly cuts funding for the program in 1,600 communities.

“The most recent recession and the years afterward have been far tougher on America’s middle class than any other since the creation of this program, with more than 26 million Americans unemployed or underemployed and one-in-five children living below the poverty line,” the op-ed reads. “As Congress considers the 2012 budget and potential cuts in the debt ceiling debate, we urge our leaders to step up, as they have commendably done in years past, to support the Emergency Food and Shelter Program. Americans on the brink of poverty are already struggling to stay above water, and we have the opportunity and obligation to help them get back on firm financial ground before it is too late.”

Click on the following link to read the entire editorial:

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HHS Makes In-Your-Face Effort to Undermine Constitution’s Religious Freedom

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh
Health and Human Services must think Catholics and other religious groups are fools.
That’s all you can think when you read HHS’s recent announcement that it may exempt the church from having to pay for contraceptive services, counseling to use them and sterilizations under the new health reform in certain circumstances. As planned now, HHS would limit the right of the church not to pay for such services in limited instances, such as when the employees involved are teaching religion and in cases where the people served are primarily Catholic.
HHS’s reg conveniently ignores the underlying principle of Catholic charitable actions: we help people because we are Catholic, not because our clients are. There’s no need to show your baptismal certificate in the hospital emergency room, the parish food pantry, or the diocesan drug rehab program. Or any place else the church offers help, either.
With its new regulation, HHS seeks to force church institutions to buy contraceptives, including drugs that can disrupt an existing pregnancy, through insurance they offer their own employees. This is part of HHS’s anticipated list of preventive services for women that private insurance programs must provide under the new health reform law.
The exemption is limited, to say the least. The pastor in the Catholic parish doesn’t have to buy the Pill for his employees, but the religious order that runs a Catholic hospital has to foot the bill for surgical sterilizations. And diocesan Catholic Charities agencies have to use money that would be better spent on feeding the poor to underwrite services that violate church teachings.
Whatever you think of artificial birth control, HHS’s command that everyone, including churches, must pay for it exalts ideology over conscience and common sense.
Perhaps HHS is unduly influenced by lobbyists. No surprise there. Certainly a major lobbyist is Planned Parenthood, the nation’s chief proponent of contraceptive services. Contraceptive services make a lot of money for Planned Parenthood clinics, which (again no surprise) provide the “services” HHS has mandated.
HHS and Planned Parenthood are narrow in focus. Respect for religious rights isn’t likely a key concern for them. However, it ought to be a key concern for President Obama, who last year promised to respect religious rights as he garnered support from the church community to pass the health care reform act. To assuage concerns, President Obama went so far as to issue an executive order promising that the health care reform act would not fund abortion or force people and institutions to violate their consciences. HHS is on its way to violating that promise. For the sake of basic integrity – the President’s keeping his word and for the protection of the right to religious freedom – President Obama needs to speak up now.

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