Cardinal: Congress Needs to Be Quick in Response to Sterilization Mandate

Head of US Bishops' Pro-Life Activities Says HHS Rule is 'Misguided' Policy

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WASHINGTON, D.C., AUG. 7, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called on Congress to address the crisis in health care sparked by the Obama administration’s contraceptive/sterilization coverage mandate.

In an Aug. 3 letter to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, he said the mandate "would forbid Americans to provide or purchase health coverage unless it includes female surgical sterilizations, all FDA-approved prescription drugs and devices for preventing pregnancy – including drugs and devices which can destroy a human life at its earliest stages – and ‘counseling and education’ to promote these to all women and girls of childbearing age.”

Cardinal DiNardo called the mandate “unprecedented and misguided federal policy.” He added that “most of those who initiate or renew employee health plans as well as student plans at educational institutions after August 1 must comply with this mandate, notwithstanding their moral or religious objections, or drop their health coverage altogether as some colleges have now begun to do.”

“For our part, the Catholic bishops of the United States continue to advocate for life-affirming health care for all, especially for poor and vulnerable people.We do not see this policy as a step in that direction,” he said. “Despite widespread opposition to this coercive policy by religious organizations, lawmakers and the general public, Congress has still taken no action to counter it. The time for such action is, to say the least, overdue.” 

The American prelate stressed the importance of the issue of religious freedom at stake, saying that it demanded “a timely congressional response.” 

“Through this mandate, the Administration is promoting an approach to religious freedom that is more grudging and arbitrary than any yet seen in federal law,” he said. 

He added that a minority of religious employers – those which, among other things, engage primarily in prayer and preaching – are said to be exempt from the mandate. “By contrast, religious organizations which live out their faith by reaching out to all in need with health care and other humanitarian services are deemed ‘not religious enough’ for the exemption.  Many, though not all, of these organizations will qualify for a one-year delay in enforcement, after which partial control of their health plans will be handed over by the government to others willing to implement the mandate.”

Cardinal DiNardo highlighted the plight of employers who may have moral or religious objections to some or all of the mandated services, people who are “devout individuals and families who own and operate businesses, who without any word of protest from employees have been offering health coverage that does not violate their moral convictions.” With the mandate “their longtime practice will be contrary to federal law, punished by a tax of $100 a day per employee and other penalties,” he said. 

The cardinal pointed out the current administration’s stance that companies that are “for profit” are secular and therefore, have no claim on religious freedom. “The validity of the religious freedom claim against the contraceptive mandate is clearer than ever – even for those supposedly ‘secular’ companies whose rights are completely ignored under that mandate,” he said. 

Due to the lengthy judicial process of many companies that have filed lawsuits against the mandate, Cardinal DiNardo concluded his letter urging the U.S. Congress to act. The Catholic bishops of the United States, he said, “fervently hope Congress will address this urgent and fundamental issue before it completes its business this year.”