US bishops urge HHS to respect consciences

US bishops urge HHS to respect consciences

.- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee chairman, urged the Health and Human Services Department to respect religious beliefs as it considers finalizing a mandate that would require health insurance providers to cover contraception.

“Catholic organizations committed to their moral and religious teaching will have no choice but to stop providing health care and other services to the needy who are not Catholic, or stop providing health coverage to their own employees,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

“This is an intolerable dilemma, and either choice will mean reduced access to health care.”

The Health and Human Services department announced federal rules on Aug. 1 that could 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 mandate comes with a religious exemption that narrowly defines religious employers as those who employ and serve members of their own religion for the purpose of teaching religious doctrine.

“Jesus and the apostles would not be ‘religious enough’ under such a test, as they served and healed people of different religions,” Cardinal DiNardo said on the eve of a hearing by the U.S. House of Representatives on conscience protections.

In a Nov. 1 letter to subcommittee chairman Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.), the cardinal outlined his support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and other moves to address potential problems with health care reform.

He noted that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “excluded longstanding protections for conscience rights on abortion, by failing to apply the annual Hyde/Weldon amendment to the billions of dollars newly appropriated by the Act.”

“And it created new open-ended mandates for ‘essential health benefits’ and ‘preventive services’ to be included in almost all private health plans, without any provision for individuals or institutions that may have a moral or religious objection to particular items or procedures,” he added.

Cardinal DiNardo stressed that a lack of conscience protections would ultimately lead to more harm than good—not only because less people would receive the basic health care that religious groups provide but because the fundamental right to religious freedom would be violated.

“Is the drive to maximize contraceptive coverage, even among those who do not want it, such an urgent national priority that it transcends concerns about religious liberty, our nation’s ‘First Freedom,’ as well as concerns about women’s health and about access to basic health care for men and women alike?” he asked.

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