By Barb Arland-Fye
Catholics in growing numbers and high-level positions hope to persuade the Department of Health and Human Services to reconsider mandatory coverage of all forms of contraception and sterilization as preventive services for women.
The Health and Human Services (HHS) department had set a Sept. 30 deadline for accepting responses to the mandate, but the issue has galvanized Catholics who see an alarming disregard for the value of life beginning at conception.
“Leaders of 20 national Catholic organizations signed a joint statement to protest the ‘preventive services’ and called for legislative reform of health care law to protect conscience rights,” said a news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The Catholic leaders’ effort came in response to media outlets portraying the objections as only an issue for the nation’s Catholic bishops.
Those signing the statement include Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, and leaders of Catholic universities, health care associations and the Knights of Columbus. “Many represent Catholic employers and service organizations that will be affected if the law is not reformed,” the news release issued by the USCCB’s Sister Mary Ann Walsh said.
In their statement, the Catholic leaders expressed concern that the mandate will force Catholic organizations providing health care and other needed services either to violate their conscience or severely curtail those services. Employers would be required to pay for sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs which can induce abortion. “As of now, a narrowly-written religious exemption to the rule would apply only to church institutions that hire and serve mostly Catholics and meet other narrow criteria, thus excluding most Catholic schools, hospitals and social service agencies.”
In recent days, I have been struck by the cavalier and mean-spirited attitudes of those who support women’s reproductive rights. Case in point: The New York Times online edition recently published an opinion piece by a young woman who said she became pregnant during college at a time when she had ambitious career goals. Pregnancy wasn’t an option for her. If abortion statistics are any indication, this young woman is hardly alone in her thinking.
From this frame of mind, prenatal life becomes an inconvenience and contraceptives and sterilization become preventive services for women.
Not so, says an eloquent Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities. In a letter he wrote objecting to the HHS mandate, he said:
“The decision [by HHS] is wrong on many levels. Preventive services are aimed at preventing diseases (e.g., by vaccinations) or detecting them early to aid prompt treatment (e.g., screening for diabetes or cancer). But pregnancy is not a disease … Mandating such coverage shows neither respect for women’s health or freedom, nor respect for the consciences of those who do not want to take part in such problematic initiatives,” he said.
He further pointed out that the mandate’s religious employer exemption is “so extremely narrow that it protects almost no one … Jesus himself, or the Good Samaritan of his famous parable, would not qualify as ‘religious enough’ for the exemption, since they insisted on helping people who did not share their view of God.”
The cardinal urged Catholics not to “shrink from the obligation to assert the values and principles that we hold essential to the common good, beginning with the right to life of every human being and the right of every woman and man to express and live by his or her religious beliefs and well-formed conscience.”