Bishops Renew Plea to Congress, Administration to Repair Affordable Care Act

Supreme Court decision does not address fundamental flaws in the law
Legislation still needed to fix conscience, abortion funding, immigration problems

WASHINGTON—Today the United States Supreme Court issued a decision upholding as a tax the provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires individuals to purchase a health plan—the so-called “individual mandate.”

For nearly a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been and continue to be consistent advocates for comprehensive health care reform to ensure access to life-affirming health care for all, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable. Although the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) did not participate in these cases and took no position on the specific questions presented to the Court, USCCB’s position on health care reform generally and on ACA particularly is a matter of public record.The bishops ultimately opposed final passage of ACA for several reasons.

First, ACA allows use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions and for plans that cover such abortions, contradicting longstanding federal policy. The risk we identified in this area has already materialized, particularly in the initial approval by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of “high risk” insurance pools that would have covered abortion.

Second, the Act fails to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protection, both within and beyond the abortion context.We have provided extensive analyses of ACA’s defects with respect to both abortion and conscience.The lack of statutory conscience protections applicable to ACA’s new mandates has been illustrated in dramatic fashion by HHS’s “preventive services” mandate, which forces religious and other employers to cover sterilization and contraception, including abortifacient drugs.

Third, ACA fails to treat immigrant workers and their families fairly. ACA leaves them worse off by not allowing them to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges created under the law, even if they use their own money. This undermines the Act’s stated goal of promoting access to basic life-affirming health care for everyone, especially for those most in need.

Following enactment of ACA, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has not joined in efforts to repeal the law in its entirety, and we do not do so today. The decision of the Supreme Court neither diminishes the moral imperative to ensure decent health care for all, nor eliminates the need to correct the fundamental flaws described above.We therefore continue to urge Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, legislation to fix those flaws.


From the USCCB. Click here for more.

Missouri Senate Committee Approves Bill Providing Conscience Protection for Health Care Workers

The Missouri Senate Committee for Health, Mental Health, Seniors and Families voted do pass HB 1541, sponsored by Rep. Tim Jones (R-Eureka), which provided conscience protection for health care workers who choose not to participate in providing abortion, abortion-inducing drugs and other medical procedures. (The provisions of HB 1541 have also been added to HCS SB 749.)

The bill would require those health care workers who choose not to participate in the specified procedures to give reasonable notice under the circumstances of their intent not to participate.

The bill will now move to the Senate floor for debate, after which it will go back to the House for further consideration. The House passed an earlier version of the bill, which was amended in the Senate Committee to address concerns raised during the committee hearing on the bill.

Must Universal Access to Health Care Entail Access to Abortion?

In 1948, Britain’s National Health Insurance (NHS) went into operation. It provided free and universal health care to all Britons. Today, Britain’s per person spending on health care is one of the lowest among industrialized nations. Such a single-payer system is the Holy Grail of many American progressives, who are critical of the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because of its reliance on a labyrinth of private health plans that might leave too many people without access to affordable health care.

But for pro-life advocates any national system comes with risks attached. In 1967, the British Parliament legalized abortion, making abortions available throughout the NHS system. If you have a national system with uniform benefits and services, then, if the culture becomes more pro-abortion, the likelihood increases that that system will begin to pay for and provide abortions.

The solution offered by libertarians is a complete withdrawal of government from the health care arena, but this seems unlikely to happen. It would require repeal not only of the new Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act but also of Medicaid for the poor and Medicare for the retired. It is also difficult to imagine how offering tax credits to people who set up health savings accounts would be an adequate substitute. The working poor have too little discretionary income to save sufficient cash for a major health crisis; their earnings must put food on the table and keep the car running so they can get to work.

If government withdrawal from health care is unlikely and tax credits are not a feasible alternative, what options remain? For many years pro-life advocates have sought to keep abortion out of federally funded health care programs, and their efforts have often been successful. Prior to 1976, the federal Medicaid program paid for about 300,000 abortions a year. However, after the Hyde Amendment went into effect for FY 1977, the funding levels dropped dramatically. In FY 1977, 182,000 abortions were funded. In FY 1986, the number was 232; in FY 2000, 109; in FY 2004, 159.

The Hyde Amendment must be attached to the various federal health care programs such as Medicaid every year. A more lasting way to keep abortion out of federal health care programs would be for Congress to enact a permanent Hyde Amendment that would apply to all federally funded health care programs.

This article was featured in the April 2012 MCC Messenger, a quarterly insert into the diocesan newspapers.

Missouri Senate Committee Hears Bill Providing Conscience Protection to Health Care Workers

The Senate General Laws Committee heard testimony this week on HB 1541, sponsored by Rep. Tim Jones (R-Eureka), which would allow health care workers to opt out of participating in certain medical procedures that violate their conscience. The procedures include abortion, provision of abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, sterilization, assisted reproduction, human cloning, human embryonic research, human somatic cell nuclear transfer, fetal tissue research and non-therapeutic benefit fetal experimentation.

HB 1541, which passed the House by a vote of 113-41, was opposed for a variety reasons by groups including the ACLU, the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the Missouri Hospital Association, BJC, HCA – Kansas City, St. Luke’s – Kansas City and Planned Parenthood. A substitute bill addressing many of the concerns raised is expected to be presented to the committee before a vote is taken.

Missouri House Passes Bill Providing Conscience Protection for Health Care Workers

On March 29, by a vote of 113-41, the Missouri House passed HB 1541, a bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Jones (R-Eureka) that provides conscience protection for health care providers. The bill would allow nurses, doctors and health care institutions the right to opt out on the basis of moral, religious or ethical concerns to participating in or providing certain medical services. Those services include abortion, abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, sterilization, assisted reproduction, human cloning, human embryonic stem-cell research, human somatic cell nuclear transfer, fetal tissue research and non-therapeutic benefit fetal experimentation.

The bill would provide health care workers a cause of action should they be forced to participate in any of the enumerated procedures that violate their conscience. The bill will now proceed to the Senate for further consideration.

Abortion-Drug Mandate Information

“Obama’s decision also reflects a certain view of liberalism. Classical liberalism was concerned with the freedom to hold and practice beliefs at odds with a public consensus. Modern liberalism uses the power of the state to impose liberal values on institutions it regards as backward. It is the difference between pluralism and anti-clericalism.”
— Michael Gerson, Washington Post columnist

Below are some other helpful resources the MCC found about the Obama Administration’s HHS abortion-drug  mandate.

News articles, editorials and Catholic resources:

Six Things Everyone Should Know About the HHS Mandate from the USCCB

USCCB’s point-by-point response to White House blog post about HHS mandate

USCCB’s bulletin insert about the mandate

The Atlantic‘s opinion column by Megan McArdle, who calls the mandate “stupid.”

Kansas City Star (Michael Gerson’s Washington Post column)

Transcript of Question and Answer about HHS Mandate with Jay Carney, White House press secretary.

Wall Street Journal’s article about the White House reiterating on Feb. 2nd that it would not rescind the mandate.

The National Catholic Reporter — Michael Sean Winters’ article on how the mandate changed his mind about President Obama.

Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops’ statement on mandate

AP Article — Contraceptive Mandate Outrages Religious Groups

Washington Times’ article — Pro-life supporters balk at Obama’s new coverage rule — Caesar Overreaching Once Again

Washington Post — Komen, Catholics and the Cost of Conscience

A Matter of Conscience — op-ed by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson

Rasmussen Reports article on how many people oppose mandate

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Article — Missouri Senators divided over mandate.

Wall Street Journal opinion article about the growing furor over the Obama Administration’s mandate

New York Times’ article — Self-Insured Complicate Health Deal

Watch Cardinal Wuerl’s interview on MSNBC about the mandate and the so-called compromise


For all of the MCC’s articles about the HHS Mandate, click here.

To find out where your Congressional delegate stands on the mandate, click here.

Archbishop Carlson Releases Pastoral Letter on Conscience Rights

Archbishop Robert Carlson
Archbishop Robert Carlson

Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis has issued a pastoral letter addressing the “grave and unprecedented threats to our religious freedom here in the United States.” In the letter, the Archbishop cites the Obama Administration’s HHS rule, which requires religious employers to cover contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization procedures in their health plans. The Archbishop observes that “this attack on our religious freedom is unacceptable to Americans who cherish the principles on which our nation was founded.” To read the entire pastoral, click here.

U.S. Bishops Vow to Fight HHS Edict

WASHINGTON—The Catholic bishops of the United States called “literally unconscionable” a decision by the Obama Administration to continue to demand that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans. Friday’s announcement means that this mandate and its very narrow exemption will not change at all; instead there will only be a delay in enforcement against some employers.

“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The cardinal-designate continued, “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their health care is literally unconscionable.  It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.”

The HHS rule requires that sterilization and contraception – including controversial abortifacients – be included among “preventive services” coverage in almost every health care plan available to Americans. “The government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs,” added Cardinal-designate Dolan.

At issue, the U.S. bishops and other religious leaders insist, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for the conscience of Catholics and all other Americans.

“This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights,” said Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of the board at Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals. “I have hundreds of employees who will be upset and confused by this edict. I cannot understand it at all.”

Daughter of Charity Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, voiced disappointment with the decision. Catholic hospitals serve one out of six people who seek hospital care annually.

“This was a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection,” Sister Keehan said.

Cardinal-designate Dolan urged that the HHS mandate be overturned.

“The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand,” he said. “The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation. We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision.”

Source: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops