The recent announcements by the Obama administration regarding U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandates for inclusion of sterilization, contraception and FDA-approved drugs that induce early abortion in all employer-based insurance plans sparked public opposition led by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In late January it was announced that the only religious institutions exempted from compliance are for employers whose primary purpose of the institution’s mission was the inculcation of the religious principles around which the organization was founded and the majority of its employees were of that faith and a majority of the clients served were of that faith. As one commentator quipped, even Jesus Christ wouldn’t qualify for the exemption because he freely healed all who came to him regardless of whether the person was a Samaritan, a Roman or a Jew.
The mandates are contrary to Catholic social teaching. Pregnancy, childbirth and babies are seen as integral parts of marriage and family, not as a disease that requires "preventative health services," as indicated in the HHS mandates. Sexuality, as is clearly taught by the church, is a unitive and procreative joy expressed within marriage. No institution or individual should be forced to violate its own teachings and conscience.
On Friday, Feb. 10, the president announced that he was offering a compromise. While much remains to be determined since only some information is available in writing and the rest is oral, skepticism remains high that the "compromise" offered is an acceptable solution to dealing with the mandates. It seems that although the whole policy held by a religious institution will not have to include blanket coverage for sterilization, contraceptives and FDA-approved drugs that induce early abortion, the insurance company contracted by the employer will negotiate such coverage directly with the employee with the cost for such coverage still born by the employer.
Mandates from the government that insist individuals and organizations violate life-affirming principles and teachings that are based in religion are a serious challenge to Americans First Amendment rights to freedom of religious expression without interference from the government. The policies that the administration is seeking to impose are contrary to an understanding of the sanctity of human life. Catholics, indeed all people of good will, are urged to contact their elected officials and to oppose these policies. A link to do so, as well as updates on the issue, are available at www.usccb.org.
Armantrout is life-issues coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester.