.- Officials with the U.S. Catholic bishopsâ conference have urged the Department of Health and Human Services not to require coverage of contraception and sterilization, saying such mandates could compel coverage for abortion-causing drugs and could threaten freedom of conscience.
Anthony Picarello, general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Michael Moses, USCCB associate general counsel, in a September 17 letter to HHS, said that the drugs, devices and procedures under consideration âprevent not a disease condition, but the healthy condition known as fertility.â Contraception and sterilization pose âsignificant risksâ to womenâs lives and health, while mandating their coverage would pose âan unprecedented threat to rights of conscience.â
According to the USCCB, Picarello and Moses said such a mandate would threaten the rights of conscience for religious employers and others with moral or religious objections to these procedures.
âIn this regard, the Administrationâs promise that Americans who like their current coverage will be able to keep it under health care reform would be a hollow pledge,â they argued.
Any mandated coverage would contradict âlongstanding federal precedentsâ about respecting conscientious objection to such procedures. Precedents include the Church Amendment, which has protected conscientious objection to abortion and sterilization since 1973.
The two counsels for the USCCB also challenged the categorization of contraception as âpreventiveâ medicine, noting that abortion is not a disease condition but âa separate procedure that is performed only by agreement between a woman and a health professional.â They cited studies indicating that contraception does not prevent abortion, as the percentage of unintended pregnancies that are ended by abortion is higher if the pregnancy occurred during a period of contraceptive use.
The two also contended that because at least one FDA-approved drug for âemergency contraceptionâ actually causes early abortions, mandating prescription contraception coverage could be in âdirect tensionâ with a statutory prohibition against mandating any abortion service.
âWe hope that these considerations will be taken into account as the Department continues deliberations on a final list of required preventive services for women,â Picarelloâs and Mosesâ letter concluded.