Brian R Corbin's Reflections on Religion and Life

Living Your Faith as Citizens and Leaders in Politics, Culture, Society and Business


‘Without change’ suddenly means ‘with change’
‘Choice’ means ‘force’
Liberalism becomes illiberal
Sterilization, contraception, abortifacients essential; ‘essential health benefits’ not
 WASHINGTON—The Department of Health and Human Services mandate that would force virtually all employers to pay for sterilization and contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs to employees has “absurd consequences,” Bishop William E. Lori said February 28.
            Bishop Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, chair of the US bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, made his comments in testimony about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
            Bishop Lori voiced concern for an “accommodation” President Obama described February 10, which suggested a way around moral concerns the church outlined in the health care reform act.
            “This ‘accommodation’ would not change the scope of the mandate and its exemption,” he said. “Instead, it would take the form of additional regulations whose precise contours are yet unknown and that may not issue until August 2013.”
            “For present purposes, the ‘accommodation’ is just a legally unenforceable promise to alter the way the mandate would still apply to those who are still not exempt from it,” he said. He added that “the promised alteration appears logically impossible.” He said that despite discussions on an accommodation the President has already finalized the controversial mandate that was proposed months earlier “without change,” thereby “excluding in advance any expansion of the ‘religious employer’ exemption. Somehow, this situation of ‘no change,’ is heralded as ‘great change,’ for which the Administration has been widely congratulated.”
            Bishop Lori underlined the government’s forcing a religious body to violate its beliefs.
            “I emphasize this word—‘force’—precisely because it is one of the key differences between a mere dispute over reproductive health policy and a dispute over religious freedom.  This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs,” he said.
             “It is not a matter of ‘repackaging’ or ‘framing’ this as a religious freedom dispute. It is a matter of acknowledging the basic fact that government is forcing religious people and groups to do something that violates their consciences,” he said.
            Bishop Lori noted that earlier “people and groups of all political stripes—left, right, and center—came forward to join us in opposing it. But now, the mere prospect of the ‘accommodation’ described above has caused some simply to abandon their prior objection.  In so doing, they undermine the basic American values that they would otherwise espouse.”
            “Only in the post-mandate world might it be considered ‘liberal’ for the government to coerce people into violating their religious beliefs; to justify that coercion based on the minority status of those beliefs; to intrude into the internal affairs of religious organizations; to crush out religious diversity in the private sector; and to incentivize religious groups to serve fewer of the needy.”
            He questioned why sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients are requirements of the health care act while decisions on prescription drugs and hospitalization that are supposed to be “essential” are “handed off to each state.”
            “HHS will brook no dissent regarding whether sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients must be covered as ‘preventive services,’” he said. “HHS is essentially indifferent regarding what is— or is not—mandated as an ‘essential health benefit.’ As a result, genuinely beneficial items may well be omitted from coverage, state-by-state. By contrast, states have no such discretion with respect to sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients.”
            He asked the committee for support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R.1179, S. 1467) to “help bring the world aright again.”
            “This legislation would not expand religious freedom beyond its present limits, but simply retain Americans’ longstanding freedom not to be forced by the federal government to violate their convictions,” he said.

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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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