This is the second part of a five-part series on the USCCB’s moral criteria for health care reform.
Part II: Honoring Conscience Rights
By Michael Lewis, Associate Director
St. Paul says, “For freedom Christ set us free.” (cf. Gal. 5:1, 13-18) This freedom to serve is at the heart of the Church’s provision of quality health care services and quality health care coverage. It is a response to our call to care for the sick and to affirm the dignity of all human life. The Catholic Church is a leading provider of health care both here in Virginia and across the United States. But is the freedom to serve diminishing in our own country – a nation that established religious liberty as its first freedom? Recent events raise fundamental concerns. Here are just two examples:
- For the past several years, religious groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, as well as Catholic and other faith-based colleges and universities, have been engaged in a protracted legal battle after the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate that all health insurance plans cover contraception, sterilization procedures, and abortion-inducing drugs such as the “morning after pill” as part of the Affordable Care Act.
- In New Jersey, a lawsuit was filed against a Catholic hospital after it refused to perform an elective procedure that was found to be part of a patient’s plan to “change genders.”
As these and many other similar situations show, health care legislation now being considered by Congress must address the right to conscience protections, as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has rightly said in its March 8, 2017 letter to Representatives and Senators. ”Congress should expressly provide conscience protections as part of any health plan for those who participate in the delivery or coverage of health care services. Such protections should extend to all stakeholders, including insurers, purchasers, sponsors, and providers and should cover any regulatory mandates,” the Bishops say in their letter outlining five moral criteria for health reform.
However, the American Health Care Act, which Republicans have presented as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, still lacks any protections for conscience rights. In a March 17 letter to members of the House of Representatives, Bishop Frank DeWine of Venice, Florida and Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, noted that the reforms currently being debated in Congress still fail to offer meaningful conscience protections against federal mandates requiring the provision of morally objectionable “preventive services” such as contraception, abortion, sterilizations and others.
The Church’s history is one of perseverance and service, even in the face of grave threats. As Catholics, let us remember why Christ set us free. As Americans, let us preserve this freedom, knowing that the common good of our country depends on it.