Two short weeks ago, on January 20, the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that virtually all health plans provided by virtually all employers, including those affiliated with the Catholic Church, would now be forced to cover sterilization procedures, abortion inducing drugs, and contraception. Under the Obama Administration’s unprecedented rule, the federal government would force the Church to include these illicit “services” in many of its insurance plans and help cover their cost.
The immediate, popular uproar against this unacceptable infringement by the federal government on religious liberty is absolutely appropriate. For two thousand years, the Church has consistently taught that abortion and contraception are wrongs that strike right at the dignity of the human person. This is not a matter of the mere opinion of a few bishops or theologians. Now, the federal government would force the Church to negotiate with insurance companies for this coverage, to purchase it and pay for actions it considers immoral. The question is not whether or not all Americans agree with the Church’s teaching on these matters. The real question is whether or not the Church—as well as other religious bodies—should have the freedom to proclaim her teaching and to practice it in a nation founded on the right to religious liberty.
In the few days since the release of the HHS rule, protests against the Administration’s infringement on religious liberty have united people of all faiths and people of good will across America. The impact is real. So now there are rumors of a possible “compromise.” If the name of the compromise is referral, it may run something like this: “We won’t make you include these services in your health plans, and you might not even have to pay for them. All you have to do is tell folks where they can go to get them. Just refer them to a local provider, and that should do it.”
Hawaii is used as an example.
In that state, employers are mandated to cover contraception (though not sterilization), and there is a slightly broader religious exemption, but it also imposes certain requirements on those who would claim the exemption: they must provide written notification to employees of other ways they can directly access coverage for, or obtain, such procedures “in an expeditious manner.”
If such a solution were proposed, it would not address the basic problem–that of the law forcing religious entities into actions they consider immoral. The Church cannot, even reluctantly, provide information, make arrangements for, facilitate, counsel or instruct people on how to obtain these immoral procedures. To do so would be to participate in the violation of the moral law and thus to act against conscience.
And so religious liberty remains front and center. The Church must have the freedom to refuse to cooperate in any way in making these “services” available. It comes down to this: If we provide the means for another to act against the moral law, we ourselves become morally culpable as well. We simply cannot and will not do that. The doctor simply cannot say, “Well, I will not kill your unborn child but let me send you to Dr. Smith who will." Referral under these conditions is simply wrong.
The best solution is this: restore religious liberty by rescinding the mandate.
Bishop Lori is bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and chairman of the USCCB's Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Bishop Lori's op ed is published here with permission of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
More information on this issue is available on the Religious Liberty page of this website.