Advocates for legal abortion still characterize their relentless campaign as “pro-choice” — while maintaining a discrete silence regarding the details of the procedure they wish to keep legal. But when the Department of Health and Human Services announced on Aug. 1 that employers would be required to provide health-insurance coverage for surgical sterilization for women and all FDA-approved forms of birth control — including drugs that induce abortions — there was no talk of “choice.”
The disregard for the concerns and rights of institutions and individuals who morally object to contraception — particularly abortifacients like Plan B and ella — gives credibility to the pro-life movement’s argument that abortion supporters cynically employ “choice” as a handy rhetorical weapon — while securing their own political agenda whenever possible.
In this case, the Obama administration manifests an apparent disregard for the consistent moral position of Catholic institutions that serve a broad cross-section of the public, while seeking to maintain the integrity of their religious mission. When HHS issued its directive on mandated services for women, it was suggested that religious institutions would be exempted. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops quickly concluded that the exemption was too narrow to be of help to Catholic hospitals, social agencies and other Church-affiliated programs.
At first glance, the HHS’ stance seems counterintuitive. To take one example — say Catholic health care — you’d think that the administration would strive to secure, rather than hamstring, the operations of a vast network that accounts for one-third of U.S. hospitals and related medical programs.
After all, the administration has made the implementation of its signature health-care bill a top priority, but experts warn that the rapid influx of 30 million patients could overwhelm the present supply of general practitioners and community health providers. So, why would HHS issue directives that create hurdles for Catholic hospitals, including those in U.S. inner cities, where high-quality care is often absent?
In fact, the administration has signaled a striking lack of interest in the priorities of Catholic health care. When the Institute of Medicine conducted a series of public hearings to review proposals for mandated services for women, Planned Parenthood and its allies were formally invited to spell out their demands. Not so the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Those who would seek to discredit the Church and its “inconvenient” teaching on sexual ethics may welcome the closing of Catholic services. But that would result in a great injustice, not only for the vulnerable who depend on the services, but also for the faithful who cherish the opportunity to express their love of God and neighbor through faith-based services.
“The most fundamental human freedom is that of practicing one’s faith openly, which for human beings is their reason for living,” stated Blessed John Paul II. And the Second Vatican Council, in its “Declaration on Religious Freedom,” argued that “the right of religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and reason itself.”
“Could the federal government possibly intend to pressure Catholic institutions to cease providing health care, education and charitable services to the general public?” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo asked in his public response to the HHS directives.
The cardinal underscored the urgency “for Congress to approve the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” (H.R. 1179), which was introduced by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Dan Boren, D-Okla. The bill would prevent mandates under the new health-reform law from undermining rights of conscience.
Catholics and all men and women of good will must fight to defend the Church’s right to provide services that explicitly affirm the inalienable dignity of each person made in the image of God.