Toward the end of January, the Obama Administration through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandated that all employers must cover the costs of contraceptives and birth control procedures as part of the nation’s health-care overhaul plan.
As a result, there has been a strong backlash from the Catholic Church, stating that the mandate forces the Church to violate central religious teachings about human sexuality. The Church, along with other religious organizations, generally oppose birth control, contraception, and abortions. Yet the directive by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would force Catholic health care providers to cover many of these things.
While the new rule would allow exemptions for some religious organizations, most Catholic services as they are currently structured would fail to be exempt from the mandate simply because most of their institutions, such as hospitals and universities, employ, as well as provide health services to, significant numbers of non-Catholics. In other words, the exemptions are too narrow and are unwisely limited only to inward-looking religious institutions
Most of the time, Americans are evenly and often deeply divided on the issue of women’s health and reproductive rights. But the mandate issued by President Obama has little to do with the definition of life and much more to do with jeopardizing fundamental and long-established rights to religious freedom. It violates one of the most cherished rights that we, as Americans, pride ourselves on.
In forcing the Catholic Church to contradict its own doctrines on human sexuality, the directives violate first amendment rights, which calls for the separation between church and state. This amendment was established in order protect religious groups from being punished by the government for not participating in laws that would force members of a religion to breach their beliefs.
“Punishment” here doesn’t mean the government would actively shut down Catholic services; it means they will lose access to much government support, which many health services—not just Catholic ones—are at least partly reliant on for their operations.
Instead, these rules would have the effect of forcing Catholic services around the country to shut themselves down; U.S. bishops have made clear that they cannot in good conscience comply with these directives, and should the mandates go into effect in a year, many hospitals, which cater to many non-Catholics as well as Catholics, would be forced to shutter themselves.
President Obama is insensitive in not broadening the exemptions for this directive. Currently, there are many American health care facilities that will provide many of the women’s health procedures that the Church objects to. But strong-arming the extensive system of Catholic healthcare and hospitals into closing will be a massive disservice not just to the 68 million Catholics in the U.S., but to countless other Americans who have come to count on the network for vital, accessible, and ready healthcare.