Decision Time at Health and Human Services
Will the Obama Administration Stand up for Workers or Cave into the Demands of the Catholic Bishops?
Today the public comment period for the Department of Health and Human Service’s regulations on coverage for preventive health services comes to a close. Catholics for Choice has spearheaded advocacy from a broad spectrum of voices for those people who may be denied coverage—a refusal or conscience clause is included which will permit religious organizations to deny coverage for family planning to their employees. The proposed refusal clause leaves too many women without affordable access to the family planning coverage they need. We know that each and every woman—her health and her conscience—matters. Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said, “It is simply unjust to leave even one woman without access in order to gain coverage for a few. Restricting access for select groups is in fact counter to the ultimate goal of the Affordable Care Act, which is to expand access to quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans.”
The majority of Catholics support family planning, and they are not afraid to speak up about it. Hundreds of Catholics have sent comments to Secretary Sebelius calling on her to ensure that all women are covered. In addition, groups of Catholic theologians, political leaders and Catholic organizations have signed onto collective statements. These appeared as open letters in the National Catholic Reporter, CFC_Politico_Sebelius-Theologians.pdf”>Politico, and CFC_TheHill_Sebelius-Politicians.pdf”>The Hill earlier this week.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops launched an unprecedented campaign seeking to pressure the Obama administration to impose even further limits on who will be covered under the new regulations. Having failed to convince Catholics in the pews to follow their hard-line ban on all contraception, the bishops are seeking to bypass the consciences of employees of religious organizations by imposing their extremist beliefs on all women, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. As they assure commentators and policymakers that they have the right to determine what healthcare is best for others, the bishops and other conservative Catholics have struggled to conceal their disdain for the choices others make about family planning—including those who work in diocesan offices, teach in Catholic schools and otherwise serve the Catholic community. We should remember that it was not that long ago that a majority of the pope’s hand-picked advisors agreed that there was no moral, theological or pastoral reason to ban Catholics from using contraception. The bishops would like us to forget that moment in history.
Catholics for Choice has also submitted comments to Secretary Sebelius in support of comprehensive reproductive health coverage, arguing that “the proposed refusal clause is an affront to religious freedom [that] constitutes state-sponsored discrimination.” It continued, “Granting entire institutions the rights of conscience that should be left to individuals is an affront to the Catholic ideals of conscience, workers’ rights, social justice and religious freedom.” In addition, secular groups and interfaith groups also sent open letters to Secretary Sebelius.
In a letter sent earlier this week, a dozen of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians revealed the fact that the inclusion of coverage for family planning in the Affordable Care Act aligns very closely with Catholic teachings on social justice. They stated that they saw “no medical or religious justification for exempting employers from paying for some necessary aspects of women’s healthcare,” because “there is no Catholic teaching to support selective fairness.”
In another letter to Secretary Sebelius, Catholic policymakers emphasized the needs of their constituents by asserting that during these difficult times everyone should be covered, “especially those who face economic hardships.” Catholic groups stated in their letter that they “cannot and do not presume to tell others how best to listen to their own consciences as they make important decisions about whether or when to have children. We do not support any effort to deny and disrespect the conscience of individuals who seek comprehensive family planning services, and encourage you to reject all policies that do so.”
Catholics for Choice president Jon O’Brien said, “We organized this campaign because the bishops do not represent the views of Catholics. They have a very narrow worldview that they pretend is indicative of the views of all Catholics. That is simply not true. It’s time for the Obama administration to stop facilitating discriminatory practices, and start promoting a society where all people have access to comprehensive and affordable healthcare, including family planning services.”