Last week, the Obama administration rolled out what it calls an "accommodation" for religious institutions subjected to the Obamacare mandate that forces American employers to provide, and individuals to purchase, health insurance that covers contraception, sterilizations, and the abortion drug ella.
The announcement was hailed as a "compromise" by the Washington Post and other mainstream news outlets. But in a statement released today, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, explains why the so-called compromise hardly does anything to protect religious liberty:
The Administration's proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries. It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education, and Catholic charities. HHS offers what it calls an "accommodation," rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our Church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches. And finally, it seems to take away something that we had previously—the ability of an exempt employer (such as a diocese) to extend its coverage to the employees of a ministry outside the exemption.
Second, United for Religious Freedom explained that the religious ministries not deemed "religious employers" would suffer the severe consequence of "be[ing] forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions." After Friday, it appears that the government would require all employees in our "accommodated" ministries to have the illicit coverage—they may not opt out, nor even opt out for their children—under a separate policy. In part because of gaps in the proposed regulations, it is still unclear how directly these separate policies would be funded by objecting ministries, and what precise role those ministries would have in arranging for these separate policies. Thus, there remains the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities. Here, too, we will continue to analyze the proposal and to advocate for changes to the final rule that reflect these concerns.
Third, the bishops explained that the "HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values." This includes employers sponsoring and subsidizing the coverage, insurers writing it, and beneficiaries paying individual premiums for it. Friday's action confirms that HHS has no intention to provide any exemption or accommodation at all to this "third class." In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath. We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.
Because the stakes are so high, we will not cease from our effort to assure that healthcare for all does not mean freedom for few. Throughout the past year, we have been assured by the Administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage. We remain eager for the Administration to fulfill that pledge and to find acceptable solutions—we will affirm any genuine progress that is made, and we will redouble our efforts to overcome obstacles or setbacks. Thus, we welcome and will take seriously the Administration's invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all.At the same time, we will continue to stand united with brother bishops, religious institutions, and individual citizens who seek redress in the courts for as long as this is necessary.