US Bishops on HHS decision on health plans

"Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women."
 - Commencement address by Barack Obama given May 17, 2009 at the University of Notre Dame.

U.S. Bishops Vow to Fight HHS Edict

January 20, 2012
Unconscionable to force citizens to buy contraceptives against their will
No change in limited exemption, only delay in enforcement
Matter of freedom of conscience, freedom of religion

WASHINGTON—The Catholic bishops of the United States called “literally unconscionable” a decision by the Obama Administration to continue to demand that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans. Today's announcement means that this mandate and its very narrow exemption will not change at all; instead there will only be a delay in enforcement against some employers.

“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The cardinal-designate continued, “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable.It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty."

The HHS rule requires that sterilization and contraception – including controversial abortifacients – be included among “preventive services” coverage in almost every healthcare plan available to Americans. “The government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs,” added Cardinal-designate Dolan.

At issue, the U.S. bishops and other religious leaders insist, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for the conscience of Catholics and all other Americans.

“This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights,” said Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of the board at Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals. “I have hundreds of employees who will be upset and confused by this edict. I cannot understand it at all.”

Daughter of Charity Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, voiced disappointment with the decision. Catholic hospitals serve one out of six people who seek hospital care annually.

“This was a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection,” Sister Keehan said.

Cardinal-designate Dolan urged that the HHS mandate be overturned.

“The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand,” he said. “The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation. We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision.”

(You'll find the video response of New York's Archbishop Dolan, President of the USCCB, here.)


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  1. The cardinal-designate continued, “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable."

    The truth is there are many Catholics who use birth control and their consciences are clear. Don't the bishops know that?

  2. Perhaps, it would be better said that their undernourished and/or dead consciences were clear. Perhaps I might want to think it's okay to take something I desperately need and cannot afford from the store and my conscience might even be relieved by my purposeful thoughts to justify such a thing - but I'd still be stealing and if I did it, I'd be a thief, no matter what my conscience "said." That's the kind of help that a dead conscience provides - none.

    The use of abortifacient contraceptives, and contraceptives in general, all go totally against Church teaching and God's command's not to kill and to be fruitful and multiply. Giving oneself to another in marriage and in the marital act, and yet preventing the possibility of the transmission of the substance of life, thwarts and belittles the grace that could be experienced by that couple.

    God bless you.

  3. Anne,

    I think you have missed the point.  The government is forcing people to act in direct opposition to their deeply held religious beliefs. I am sure that the bishops know that there are Catholics who, with a clear conscience, violate Church teachings every day.  That does not give the government the right to force all Catholics to violate Church teaching.  The government does not have the right to restrict the free exercise of religion.


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