First they came for Catholic conscience

William J. Cox, president and CEO of the California-based Alliance of Catholic Health Care, testified before a Congressional committee this past week particularly as it relates to the Obama administration’s attempt to counter a conscience clause when mandating contraception and sterilization coverage by including a narrow religious exemption that in effect hamstrings Catholic institutions and negatively impacts the people they serve.

Catholic News Agency brings clarity:

ConscienceNOThe proposed guidelines, announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Aug. 1, mandate that all new healthcare plans cover all FDA-approved birth control, surgical sterilization, and counseling for such services.

An exemption is available only for those religious employers that have teaching religious values as their purpose and primarily employ and serve people who share its religious tenets.

By issuing its rule, Cox charged, the Department of Health and Human Services “turned its back” on the contributions of Catholic health care and “undid centuries of religious tolerance.”

The mandate will have a “disproportionate impact” on Catholic institutions, he added, criticizing the exemption’s “exceedingly narrow” definition of religious employer.

The federal rule is the “most radical” of the 28 states with such coverage mandates. It would include all FDA-approved contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures. It mandates coverage for at least one drug that can cause an abortion when taken to avoid pregnancy.

If conscience rights issues are not addressed, the mandates will force providers and others to choose between “violating their consciences or no longer providing or paying for health care and other services,” he said.

This would end in reduced access to care, especially for “some of the weakest among us,” said Cox, whose organization represents 54 hospitals and more than 40 nursing homes, hospices, assisted living and other facilities and services throughout the California.

Jane G. Belford, chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, told the hearing that if the mandate is not rescinded then its religious exemption would fail to protect “the vast majority of religious stakeholders in the process of providing health insurance.”

“Until now, federal law has never prevented religious employers, like the Archdiocese of Washington, from providing for the needs of their employees with a health plan that is consistent with the Church’s moral teachings.”

Under the new rules, she said, Catholic schools that teach abortion is morally wrong could be forced to pay for abortifacient drugs for their employees. Catholic health clinics that refuse to provide contraception or sterilization for patients could have to subsidize contraception and sterilization for their employees.

“Currently, the archdiocese is free under federal law to offer health benefits coverage that excludes contraception and sterilization,” Belford continued. “We would lose this freedom of conscience under the HHS mandate’s current definition of an exempted religious organization.”

The mandate goes beyond forcing religious institutions to contradict the belief that sterilization and contraception are immoral. Its grant of religious freedom to groups which employ and serve only co-religionists also significantly burdens Catholics’ “deeply held belief that God calls us to serve our neighbors,” she said.

David L. Stevens, M.D., the CEO of the Christian Medical Association, said the religious exemption is “meaningless.” The mandate could trigger a decrease in health care access for patients in underserved regions and populations. It also contributes to “an increasingly hostile environment” for medical students, residents and graduate physicians who face “discrimination, job loss and ostracism” for having pro-life views on abortion, contraceptives and other issues.

He warned that the mandate creates “a climate of coercion” that could prompt pro-life health care professionals to limit the scope of their practice and discourage medical students and residents from choosing careers in specialties likely to involve conflicts of conscience.

“The contraceptive mandate rule sweepingly tramples conscience rights, which have not only provided a foundation for American civil liberties but also a foundation for the ethical and professional practice of medicine,” Stevens said. “The administration should rescind this mandate entirely.”

Stevens’ organization and the Archdiocese of Washington encouraged Congress to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.

The Anchoress adds for effect:

This administration is determined to narrow the concept of religious freedom, and they are trying to do it by suggesting that religions and churches are no longer free to be who and what they are. Apparently,a church can be forced to trespass against itself and its own creed and conscience — or else close down its outreach — and to some people, that seems like “freedom.”

The most radical Presidency in American history marches on, and most in America are oblivious to the damage being wrought.

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