The Obama administration has betrayed Catholics by refusing to expand the religious exemption in Health and Human Services' contraception mandate, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput says.
“The administration's only concession was to give our institutions a one-year delay to comply,” he said in a Feb. 2 letter. “This is not merely inadequate. It is dangerous. And it betrays the good faith of many Catholics who – until now – have supported the current administration with an honest will.”
Archbishop Chaput is one of over 140 U.S. bishops who have spoken out against the Health and Human Services rules finalized Jan. 20, which require most new health plans to provide contraception and sterilization – including drugs that can cause an abortion – without a co-pay.
Most religious institutions will not be able to opt out, though HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave them an additional year to meet the requirements.
In a letter distributed to parishes to be read at Feb. 5 Sunday Masses, Archbishop Chaput said Catholic institutions “cannot comply with this unjust law without compromising our convictions and undermining the Catholic identity of many of our service ministries.”
“This is not just another important issue among the many we need to be concerned about,” he stated.
“This ruling is different. This ruling interferes with the basic right of Catholic citizens to organize and work for the common good as Catholics in the public square.”
On Feb. 1, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz issued a response to critics of the mandate. She stressed the existence of a religious exemption, cited Guttmacher Institute statistics about contraceptive use among Catholics, and said the mandate excluded abortion-causing drugs.
The exemption, however, applies only to institutions that primarily employ and serve members of the same faith for the purpose of inculcating religious values.
Meanwhile, the emergency contraceptive “Ella” – covered without a co-pay under the mandate – can prevent the survival of a living embryo, and thus qualifies as an abortifacient drug according to the U.S. bishops' Ethical and Religious directives.
In his letter, Archbishop Chaput indicated that the issue at hand had nothing to do with any particular individual's decision to contracept, but was primarily a matter of institutions' right to act in accordance with religious convictions.
But individuals and non-religious institutions, he noted, would also be subject to state coercion.
“Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those 'services' in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.”
He urged Catholics to educate themselves with the resources of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and said they should contact their congressional representatives in the House and Senate.
“Your action on this issue matters – not just today but for many years to come; and in ways that will shape the ability of the Church to witness the Gospel publicly through her ministries well into the future.”