Representatives of Catholic colleges voiced disappointment in a new federal rule finalizing the requirement to include student health plans in the administration’s controversial new contraception mandate.
Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, said the mandate will undermine the efforts of every Catholic family that “chooses a Catholic college to ensure an appropriate Christian environment for their daughter.”
Reilly told EWTN News on March 19 that the requirement violates religious freedom and will be helping to “supply promiscuous college students.”
Under the mandate, he explained, a college freshman girl will be able to arrange for a free “tubal ligation or an IUD or the abortion-causing drug Ella, covered without co-pay by the insurance plan offered by her Catholic institution.”
On March 16, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule on student health plans under the health-care reform law. The regulation will require colleges to treat student health plans like employee plans, making them subject to the mandate.
Catholic colleges and universities do not qualify for the narrow religious exemption to the mandate. Rather, they will likely fall under a second set of guidelines that the Obama administration describes as its “accommodation” for religious freedom.
The implementation of that accommodation has not yet been finalized and is currently the subject of a 90-day public comment period.
However, initial statements by the administration have suggested that religious organizations will be required to contract with an insurance provider, or third-party administrator, in the case of self-insured organizations, that will offer the coverage that the organizations find objectionable.
“This doesn’t surprise me,” said Mike Hernon, vice president for advancement at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
He explained that the administration had expressed its intention of including student health plans in the mandate from the very beginning, and the final rule has simply “made it crystal clear” that the administration intends to go through with its plan.
“This is a violation of our First Amendment freedoms,” Hernon said, explaining that the university chooses not to cover products and procedures that are contrary to Church teaching in its voluntary health plan for students.
Students choose to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville “because they want to be part of a culture that support life and the mission of the Church,” he said, adding that the mandate “flies in the face of that.”
Hernon explained that in order to live out its mission as a Catholic institution everything, from hiring decisions to the formation of the curriculum at the university, is “completely intertwined with the Catholic faith.”
The mandate attempts to force the university to separate its teaching in the classroom from its action in the health-insurance plans that it provides, he said.
Larry Morris, general counsel for The Catholic University of America in Washington agreed.
He explained that the required inclusion of student health plans is “no less offensive” than the original requirement to offer the objectionable coverage to employees.
The regulation uses the “same compulsion” to turn the university into an “instrument of the government” in carrying out actions that are contrary to Catholic teaching, he said.
Several colleges have filed lawsuits against the administration arguing that the mandate violates their constitutionally protected right to religious freedom.
In addition, numerous religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have voiced support for legislation to protect the conscience rights of both religious organizations and faithful individuals throughout the country.
The Cardinal Newman Society has stated that “the fullest protection of religious liberty for Americans is possible only by rescinding the federal mandate.”
It has called on Catholic colleges across the country to “clearly and publicly oppose this mandate and the Obama administration’s inadequate religious exemption” until the religious liberty of both individuals and institutions is secure.
A federal regulation requiring Americans to fund elective abortions under the health-care reform law has yet to change and continues to spark outrage from pro-life advocates across the country.
Richard Doerflinger, secretariat of pro-life activities for the USCCB, told EWTN News on March 19 that the regulation presents “nothing new” but merely repeats what the health-care law said from the beginning.
“If people are surprised that is because they believed false and misleading accounts of the act two years ago, instead of the accurate descriptions by the bishops’ conference and other groups,” Doerflinger said.
He explained that the funding of abortion was among the bishops’ reasons for opposing the final law, despite their “long-standing support for health care reform.”
On March 12, the Department of Health and Human Services filed a final rule on the implementation of the state exchanges created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Included in the regulation is a provision regulating involuntary funding of insurance plans that cover elective abortions.
During debates over the health-care overhaul, President Barack Obama promised that federal money would not be used to fund abortion under the legislation. Under pressure from legislators who threatened to vote against the bill, he signed a March 2010 executive order repeating this promise.
However, critics say that the administration has now implemented an accounting gimmick in order to provide funding for abortion in the form of a mandatory insurance premium rather than a tax payment.
Doerflinger said that although many private health plans currently cover abortion, there will be several significant changes under the new law.
First, he said, plans that choose to cover abortion will now receive federal tax subsidies, forcing all taxpayers to contribute to them.
This new policy is contrary to that put in place by the Hyde Amendment, as well as every other major federal program that prohibited tax money from subsidizing abortions, he noted.
In addition, Doerflinger explained, many Americans will be “forced to pay directly for other people’s abortions as well.”
This will take place through a monthly surcharge for people enrolled in plans that cover abortion. According to federal regulations, this surcharge will be at least one dollar per month; however, there is no maximum rate, and nothing prohibits insurance companies from charging substantially more to pay for abortions.
Of particular concern, noted Doerflinger, is the fact that insurers will not be allowed to let people simply decline coverage of abortion and refuse to pay that part of the premium, even on the ground of religious or moral objections.
He added that the federal government prohibits insurers from giving enrollees a “specific warning about the fact that they are buying abortion coverage.”
It also forbids insurers from telling enrollees how much of their money is going towards other people’s abortions, thereby making it very difficult or even impossible to withhold this portion of the premium.
According to the federal regulation, notice of the abortion surcharge does not need to be mentioned in a plan’s advertising and must be disclosed “only as part of the summary of benefits and coverage explanation at the time of enrollment.”
Although states may choose to “opt out” of covering abortion in their health care plans – and 15 states have already done so – they may still be required to pay for such coverage through the “multi-state plans” that are to be created under the health care law.
Details for these plans, which will be administered by the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management, have not yet been released.
“Pro-life Americans shouldn’t be forced to have their premiums used to pay for other people’s abortions,” said Mary Harned, staff counsel with Americans United for Life.
She explained to EWTN News that allowing insurance plans that cover abortions to be subsidized by the government is a “departure from existing laws”; that is “really no different than directly paying for the abortions.”
She added that the lack of a conscientious exemption from the surcharge means that “there’s no real choice in this matter for the enrollee.”
Harned said that many people must use the insurance plan offered by their employers, so switching to a plan that does not cover abortion is not an option for them.
Congressman Chris Smith, R-N.J., co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, added that burying the abortion surcharge in the summary of benefits will mean that many Americans “could easily miss the fine print” while looking for insurance options.
“Once enrolled, even pro-life Americans will be forced to pay for other people’s abortions,” he warned in a March 15 statement.
Smith called the regulation “a mere bookkeeping exercise” that still requires Americans to be “complicit in abortion” against their will.
He emphasized that the current age of ultrasound imaging has allowed for a revolution in the true health-care services that can be provided to children in the womb: “Abortion isn’t health care.”