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Bishops Continue to Lobby on Healthcare Reform

December 21, 2011

Use Healthcare Industry to Put Pressure on Obama Administration

The never-ending efforts of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to force US law to comply with the bishops’ interpretation of Catholic teachings continue. The USCCB has rounded up its colleagues in the Catholic healthcare industry and allies in Catholic education, social services, NGOs and religious orders and placed a full-page ad in today’s Washington Post calling for an expansive refusal clause that will ensure that millions of women and men are denied no-cost family planning coverage.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued the following statement today about the bishops’ lobbying efforts.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops isn’t satisfied with its privileged status in US policymaking. Having held healthcare reform hostage over insurance coverage for family planning and abortion services, it is now demanding that Catholic institutions be given unprecedented conscience rights over the people to whom they provide health insurance coverage. This is unacceptable.

The bishops’ conference is focused like a laser on politics. It wants to increase its role in policymaking so that the bishops can impose their own narrow religious views about sexuality—views that are only shared by a tiny minority of Catholics—on the entire nation, all the while keeping the billions of dollars they receive from state and federal budgets.

Just weeks ago, the USCCB launched its Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. The committee isn’t designed to focus on religious beliefs, or worship, or catechesis, as one might expect a committee of Catholic bishops would. The committee’s mandate is to work in six areas, with five of those related to sex issues and the other seeking allowances to discriminate in the employment arena.

The committee is a major lobbying initiative that seeks to give the bishops a free pass—allowing them to get taxpayer dollars for their social service charities without having to adhere to the standards that apply to others working in the same field or competing for the same contracts. Just look at what the bishops have spent the last few months working on: an all-out assault on the Obama administration and allies in Congress demanding the right to block workers at Catholic institutions from gaining access to contraception through their insurance without a copayment.

The USCCB wants to take taxpayer money while refusing to provide condoms as part of HIV outreach; to ban employees and their dependents from getting the benefit of contraceptive coverage that other Americans enjoy; and to opt out of providing emergency contraception to victims of sexual violence who come to Catholic hospitals.

Catholic teachings tell us that we each have a responsibility to listen to our own consciences in matters of moral decision making and to respect other people’s right to do the same. Our tradition also tells us to care for the most vulnerable. The bishops need to remember this when they are making decisions about where to expend their political energies.

Rather than playing politics to impose their beliefs on people in need, the bishops should focus on their own flock, the people they have yet to convince to follow their lead on key issues related to conscience and religious freedom. I trust that President Obama will listen to the electorate and not the US bishops and their allies when making decisions about healthcare delivery.”