Bishop Richard Malone, speaking as pastor of Roman Catholics of Maine, on Monday, January 23, endorsed the position of the Catholic Bishops of the United States who called “literally unconscionable” a decision by the Obama Administration to continue to demand that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans. They asserted that the administration’s announcement means that this mandate and its very narrow exemption will not change at all; instead there will only be a delay in enforcement against some employers.
Bishop Malone said that the President’s decision “to implement a contraceptive mandate on all of the nation’s health care plans is a blatant and capricious affront to conscience rights and religious liberty.” Beyond this particular issue, he called attention to “the larger issue of the President’s complete disregard for religious freedom, as guaranteed by the First Amendment”
The bishop stated that “despite intense pleas from thousands of Americans, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to reconsider this plan, the President has forged ahead and insisted on implementing this mandate.”
Broad Reach of the Mandate
He pointed out that the consequences of this decision will be dramatic and devastating, not only for Catholic institutions, but for the scores of non-Catholics whom we serve through a myriad of programs and services.
Apparently administrative offices of the Church and the parishes likely would be exempt when from the contraceptive mandate when it goes into effect on August 1, other Church-related institutions such as Catholic Charities, Catholic hospitals, nursing homes and schools would not qualify since they serve a wider population.
The Catholic Church and other likeminded churches and organizations object to the requirement of the law that all private health insurance plans cover contraception and sterilization prescriptions as “preventative services” for women. Such contraceptive coverage includes drugs that are known at times to result in an abortion.
The administration’s rigid criteria only exempt organizations that serve primarily those who share a common faith. Because Catholic institutions serve those in need regardless of religious affiliation, in essence, the President’s mandate unjustly discriminates against those who rely on these services the most.
Nonprofit employers who do not currently provide contraceptive coverage based on religious beliefs will be provided an additional year to comply with the new law.
An Appeal to the Constitution
At issue, the U.S. bishops and other religious leaders insisted in their press release, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for the conscience of Catholics and all other Americans.
Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops maintained that “to force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.”
Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of the board at Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals, argued that this is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights. Hundreds of our employees will be upset and confused by this edict.
Bishop Malone pleaded for respect for the free exercise of religion protected by the Constitution: “The Church, as a matter of doctrine, opposes the use of contraception and particularly the morning-after pill since it often serves to induce an abortion. To mandate that we provide coverage for these services within our institutions forces us to make an impossible choice: either we violate our own moral code of conduct or deny our employees health care coverage. These options are unconscionable. This is a deliberate invasion into the beliefs and practices of faith-based organizations as well as a direct violation of every believer’s freedom of conscience.”
The Bishop said that he will appeal to the clergy and parishioners of the Diocese to take action and protest this injustice.