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.