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WASHINGTON—The Department of Health and Human Services mandate that would force virtually all employers to pay for sterilization and contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs to employees has “absurd consequences,” Bishop William E. Lori said February 28.
Bishop Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, chair of the US bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, made his comments in testimony about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
His written and oral testimony can be found at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/02-28-12-Lori-Testimony-for-House-Judiciary-long-form.pdf and http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/Oral-Testimony-of-Most-Reverend-William-E-short-version.pdf
Bishop Lori voiced concern for an “accommodation” President Obama described February 10, which suggested a way around moral concerns the church outlined in the health care reform act.
“This ‘accommodation’ would not change the scope of the mandate and its exemption,” he said. “Instead, it would take the form of additional regulations whose precise contours are yet unknown and that may not issue until August 2013.”
“For present purposes, the ‘accommodation’ is just a legally unenforceable promise to alter the way the mandate would still apply to those who are still not exempt from it,” he said. He added that “the promised alteration appears logically impossible.” He said that despite discussions on an accommodation the President has already finalized the controversial mandate that was proposed months earlier “without change,” thereby “excluding in advance any expansion of the ‘religious employer’ exemption. Somehow, this situation of ‘no change,’ is heralded as ‘great change,’ for which the Administration has been widely congratulated.”
Bishop Lori underlined the government’s forcing a religious body to violate its beliefs.
“I emphasize this word—‘force’—precisely because it is one of the key differences between a mere dispute over reproductive health policy and a dispute over religious freedom. This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs,” he said.
“It is not a matter of ‘repackaging’ or ‘framing’ this as a religious freedom dispute. It is a matter of acknowledging the basic fact that government is forcing religious people and groups to do something that violates their consciences,” he said.
Bishop Lori noted that earlier “people and groups of all political stripes—left, right, and center—came forward to join us in opposing it. But now, the mere prospect of the ‘accommodation’ described above has caused some simply to abandon their prior objection. In so doing, they undermine the basic American values that they would otherwise espouse.”
“Only in the post-mandate world might it be considered ‘liberal’ for the government to coerce people into violating their religious beliefs; to justify that coercion based on the minority status of those beliefs; to intrude into the internal affairs of religious organizations; to crush out religious diversity in the private sector; and to incentivize religious groups to serve fewer of the needy.”
He questioned why sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients are requirements of the health care act while decisions on prescription drugs and hospitalization that are supposed to be “essential” are “handed off to each state.”
“HHS will brook no dissent regarding whether sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients must be covered as ‘preventive services,’” he said. “HHS is essentially indifferent regarding what is— or is not—mandated as an ‘essential health benefit.’ As a result, genuinely beneficial items may well be omitted from coverage, state-by-state. By contrast, states have no such discretion with respect to sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients.”
He asked the committee for support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R.1179, S. 1467) to “help bring the world aright again.”
“This legislation would not expand religious freedom beyond its present limits, but simply retain Americans’ longstanding freedom not to be forced by the federal government to violate their convictions,” he said.
Keywords: Bishop William Lori, US Bishops, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Health and Human Services, House Judiciary Committee, sterilization, contraceptives, abortifacients
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