Letter to Congress on the Lowey Amendment: Catholic Health Care and Mandatory Contraception

Letter to Congress on the Lowey Amendment: Catholic Health Care and Mandatory Contraception

June 22, 1998

Dear Member of Congress:

I am writing to ask for your help in blocking legislative language that would discriminate against Catholic health care and undermine its important role in our health care system.

The Lowey amendment, added to the Treasury/Postal appropriations bill in committee last week, would exclude from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program any health plan that fails to cover prescription contraceptives and related "outpatient care" on the same basis as other services. The Lowey amendment makes rejection of Catholic teaching a condition for participating in a public program. In effect it writes into all applications a new declaration: "No Catholics Need Apply." Ms. Lowey intends to extend this policy to all private health insurance, thereby excluding Catholic health plans from the health insurance market generally.

This amendment also mandates a form of abortion coverage. We understand abortion to include any act which destroys the newly conceived embryo by preventing implantation in the womb. The Lowey amendment requires health plans to violate this moral tenet and cover abortifacients, by requiring coverage for all FDA-approved drugs and devices "intended for preventing pregnancy." Drugs such as Norplant, Depo-Provera and the low-estrogen Pill sometimes act not by preventing ovulation or fertilization, but by preventing the embryo from implanting in the womb. For the abortifacient drug known as the "morning-after pill," approved by the FDA as "emergency contraception," this is the primary mode of action.

Congress has repeatedly voted to bar federal support for experiments that may harm or destroy human embryos before implantation in the womb. It should not now reverse course and force unwilling insurers and patients to subsidize such destruction of early human life.

Proponents' claim that the Lowey amendment would help reduce abortions is contradicted by experience. Large federal subsidies for contraceptive programs have been associated with increased abortion rates. While contraceptive use may decrease the overall rate of unintended pregnancy, it is also associated with a far greater likelihood that any such pregnancy will be aborted. Even Planned Parenthood concedes that most women obtaining abortions in the U.S. were using contraception when they became pregnant.

Because the Lowey amendment threatens both religious freedom and developing human life, I urge you to help ensure that it is not enacted into law.


Gail Quinn
Executive Director