Diocesan News

Nebraska Catholic Bishops Object to Coercive Federal Action

(NECC/SNR) - The Catholic Diocesan Bishops serving in Nebraska have written to the Obama administration expressing their objections to a governmental mandate that forces virtually all private health plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives, sterilization procedures and related counseling for women with reproductive capacity.

This mandated insurance coverage is part of an "Interim Final Rule" in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ regulatory process for implementing the "preventive services" provisions of health-care-reform legislation.

In their jointly signed letter sent to the federal agency, the Archbishop of the Omaha Archdiocese, George J. Lucas; the Bishop of the Lincoln Diocese, Fabian W. Bruskewitz; and the Bishop of the Grand Island Diocese, William J. Dendinger, requested and urged that the mandate be rescinded, pointing out that it would prohibit both employers and individuals from purchasing, and issuers of insurance from offering, any health insurance plan that would not cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs such as "ella" (ulipristal acetate) that can kill human embryos both before and after implantation.

"In effect this would constitute an unprecedented, ill-advised governmental coercion of persons and entities nationwide to accept certain health-insurance coverage regardless of any moral or religious objection they might have to it," the Catholic leaders wrote. "This would be a radical departure from this nation’s historic commitment to religious liberty."

The Bishops reject the premise that pregnancy is like a disease to be prevented. "We consider it irrefutable that human fertility is not a disease and that contraception is not disease prevention and therefore should not be regarded as a ‘preventive service.’ From this perspective, it is abundantly clear that this proposed mandate would be more an ideological policy than a health-care-coverage policy. It is wrong and unjust for such a policy to be coercively applied," the Bishops wrote.

They pointed out that from the perspective of a Catholic organization’s role as employer, "not providing or subsidizing any health-care coverage at all would likely be viewed as the lesser evil."

The Bishops also addressed the rule’s attempt to exempt certain organizations as "religious employers," describing it as "so narrowly constructed as to be incredibly inadequate."

If this flawed aspect of the Interim Final Rule is not rescinded, the Bishops urge that it be "substantially revised to provide thorough, meaningful and effective accommodation for religious beliefs and convictions of conscience."

The full text of the Catholic Bishops’ letter is available online at the Nebraska Catholic Conference website: http://www.nebcathcon.org/Temp-mandate%20letter%2010-2011.pdf.

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