Notre Dame joins outcry against HHS contraception mandate

ppjenkinscna290911 Fr. John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame added to the wave of criticism leveled at the proposed Health and Human Services mandate that requires health insurance providers to cover contraception and offers a narrow exemption for religious groups.

President Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., wrote in a Sept. 28 letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the mandate places the school in the “impossible position” of having to defy Church teaching.

The department announced federal rules on Aug. 1 that will require nearly all new health plans, including those of most religious agencies, to cover all government-approved methods of contraception as well as surgical sterilization.

The guidelines, which were created in response to the 2010 health care law, require new health insurance plans to cover what it calls “women’s preventive services.” These include breastfeeding support, domestic violence screening and contraception without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible.

The mandate “would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the church's moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and student health care plans in violation of the church's social teaching,” Fr. Jenkins said.

Notre Dame joins 18 other Catholic universities and colleges, as well as the U.S. bishops and numerous other Catholic organizations that have reacted strongly against the proposition.

Catholics have been encouraged to oppose the measure by contacting HHS before the Sept. 30 comment deadline.

Another point of contention among Catholics is that the proposed mandate offers exemptions only if a religious employer “has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose,” “primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets,” and “primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.”

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee, said Aug. 2 that although the measure “gives the agency the discretion to authorize a ‘religious’ exemption, it is so narrow as to exclude most Catholic social service agencies and healthcare providers.”

Fr. Jenkins noted in his letter that the mandate goes against the U.S.'s “history of federal conscience statutes that have been in effect to protect individuals and organizations like ours.”

Religious groups, he added, should not be required “to participate in, pay for, or provide coverage for certain services that are contrary to our religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

Fr. Jenkins urged Sebelius to broaden the scope of the exemption for religious employers and honor the U.S.'s tradition of “profound respect for the rights of conscience.” 

The proposed rules are set to take effect in August 2012. Calls to HHS were not returned in time for publication.

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