NEW YORK — Responding to media reports, the Archdiocese of New York said that its payments to a labor union fund that goes towards insurance coverage of contraception and abortion are involuntary and do not excuse the federal contraception mandate.
“The union, local 1199, is present in all health-care facilities. Even if a health-care facility chose not to negotiate with the union, it would be forced to abide by the same terms of the contract,” archdiocese communications director Joseph Zwilling told Catholic News Agency on May 30.
The New York Times on May 26 reported that the Archdiocese of New York “reluctantly and indirectly” funds objectionable health-care coverage for about 3,000 full-time employees of ArchCare, which operates seven nursing homes and a number of other health-care facilities.
ArchCare, like other health-care employers in New York, pays into a union benefit fund that is then used by the union to pay for various benefits, including an insurance plan that covers contraception and abortion.
Also known as the Catholic Health Care System, ArchCare is a member of the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes, which periodically negotiates a joint labor contract with the union 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
However, even if the archdiocese chose not to be part of the league, labor laws prohibit Catholic facilities from simply opting to ignore the union.
“It doesn’t matter whether you join the league or you don’t join; the league determines the contract, and then the union goes and forces the same arrangement on the other homes, whether you are in the league or not,” said Scott LaRue, the chief executive of ArchCare, according to The New York Times.
In a May 27 statement, Zwilling said The New York Times article “incorrectly equates” the union health-care benefits with the federal mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services to require employers to offer insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that may cause early abortions.
After strong opposition to the initial mandate, the government began a series of steps to modify the regulation. The most recent proposal would exempt churches and their affiliated organizations from the mandate’s requirements. However, religious institutions such as hospitals, schools or soup kitchens that are not run by a house of worship would not qualify for an exemption.
These religious organizations would instead be subject to a separate provision under which the health-insurance plans they fund would trigger free coverage of the objectionable products for their employees. The administration argues that this coverage can be offered free because the cost of the contraceptives would be offset by the “tremendous health benefits” that women enjoy from using contraception, along with the fewer childbirths that will result.
Critics have voiced doubt over these claims, arguing that the objecting religious groups will ultimately still fund the coverage through their premium payments.
Zwilling stressed that the labor union’s action regarding the insurance plan does not justify the federal mandate.
He noted that federal law and the First Amendment place restrictions on government imposition on religion that do not extend to labor unions. He further explained that the archdiocese “has objected to the dilemma of choosing between providing health care to employees or violating its sincere religious beliefs in both instances.”
“ArchCare did not exist at the time the contract with 1199 was finalized. When ArchCare was formed, it inherited this situation and objected to these services being included in the 1199 health plan,” he said.
“However, ArchCare had no other option but to pay into the fund which administers the union members’ benefits ‘under protest’ to continue to offer insurance to its union workers and remain in the health-care field in New York.”
In the same way, he explained, the archdiocese has appealed to the Obama administration, Congress and the court system to protect its religious freedom from the demands of the contraception mandate.
“In all cases where the health-insurance benefit plan is under the control of the archdiocese, including for all non-union ArchCare employees, contraceptive-care services are not provided.”