June 28, 2012
Bishops Renew Plea to Congress and Administration to Repair Affordable Care Act
Supreme Court decision does not address fundamental flaws in the lawLegislation still needed to fix conscience, abortion funding, immigration problems
WASHINGTON—Today the United States Supreme Court issued a decision upholding as a tax the provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires individuals to purchase a health plan—the so-called “individual mandate.”
For nearly a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been and continue to be consistent advocates for comprehensive health care reform to ensure access to life-affirming health care for all, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable. Although the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) did not participate in these cases and took no position on the specific questions presented to the Court, USCCB’s position on health care reform generally and on ACA particularly is a matter of public record. The bishops ultimately opposed final passage of ACA for several reasons.
First, ACA allows use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions and for plans that cover such abortions, contradicting longstanding federal policy. The risk we identified in this area has already materialized, particularly in the initial approval by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of “high risk” insurance pools that would have covered abortion.
Second, the Act fails to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protection, both within and beyond the abortion context. We have provided extensive analyses of ACA’s defects with respect to both abortion and conscience. The lack of statutory conscience protections applicable to ACA’s new mandates has been illustrated in dramatic fashion by HHS’s “preventive services” mandate, which forces religious and other employers to cover sterilization and contraception, including abortifacient drugs.
Third, ACA fails to treat immigrant workers and their families fairly. ACA leaves them worse off by not allowing them to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges created under the law, even if they use their own money. This undermines the Act’s stated goal of promoting access to basic life-affirming health care for everyone, especially for those most in need.
Following enactment of ACA, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has not joined in efforts to repeal the law in its entirety, and we do not do so today. The decision of the Supreme Court neither diminishes the moral imperative to ensure decent health care for all, nor eliminates the need to correct the fundamental flaws described above. We therefore continue to urge Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, legislation to fix those flaws.
Letter to all Catholics of the Diocese of Shreveport from the Bishop
My dear friends in Christ,
For as long as I can remember, at Mass on the Sunday before the Fourth of July, we always offered a prayer of thanks to God for the right we enjoyed as Americans to freely practice our faith. This freedom of religion seemed so secure that I never could have imagined a situation where there would ever be a conflict between being a good Catholic and being a good American.
Unfortunately, as I wrote to you this past February, the new insurance mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services may in fact make the unimaginable a reality. I have chosen today, the Sunday before the Fourth of July, to ask that all churches in the diocese offer our prayers at this Mass for the protection of our religious freedom in the United States.
To be clear, in light of the Supreme Court Decision this past week, the Church’s opposition is not to affordable health care but to a specific HHS mandate within the Affordable Health Care which forces religious and other employers to cover sterilization and contraception, including abortifacient drugs. (This is not the same mandate ruled on this past week by the Supreme Court.)
Our insistence that this is a religious freedom issue has brought criticism, satire and open hostility toward the Church. But if you sift through all the media spin and misdirection I do believe you will find a singular truth, that if the mandate stands, our religious freedom will be narrowed and weakened in two real ways.
- As a new precedent, the government will have been allowed to create by administrative decision, a new definition of what is a Church and by effect what entities are exempted from Government influence. This new definition will be narrower. In this specific HHS mandate, the federal government defines an exempted church as: a body which hires mostly its own members and serves mostly its own members, and which exists primarily to advance its own teachings. In a word, only the parish and probably the parish school, the only part of the Catholic family, will be exempt from the mandate to provide immoral services. This definition is too narrow to include Catholic hospitals, colleges, Catholic Charities and other previously exempted Church organizations. This means that our many Catholic institutions, which are a part of our Church and a true extension of our mission, would no longer be exempt and would be required to act in contradiction to their faith. This mandate also will remove the options previously available to Catholic business owners to be faithful to Church teachings in their business choices.
- This brings me to the second real consequence of the HHS mandate, which is, that for the first time there would be laws that would require our Catholic institutions, not covered in the narrow definition of the Church exemption, to provide services in their insurance that are contrary to the moral teachings of our Catholic faith.
This is a REAL law that has legal consequences. The effect would be to create that unimaginable situation where being a good faithful Catholic would be in conflict with being a law abiding citizen.
I would rather be talking to you today about our ministry to the poor, or some other aspect of discipleship, but the seriousness of the effects of this mandate require that we remain vigilant and act to protect our religious freedom. This conflict could have been avoided if the same exemptions that have governed our religious freedom for the recent past had not been changed or narrowed.
This is not a partisan political fight that is either pro Democrat or pro Republican. Our focus is to change the mandate and restore the legal exemptions that will allow us to be good citizens and faithful Catholics. This is a fight we did not choose but since this change has been enacted we must resist with all our civil rights and legal opportunities to protect our religious freedom in the United States. This has recently included legal challenges to the law placed in over 14 courts and continual conversations with lawmakers at the highest level of government.
In closing we should know that for us as Catholics, indeed for all Christians, freedom is always connected to love. We have been created with a free will by our Creator so that we will have within our very being the one essential quality that makes love possible, to be free. So our Catholic faith will never be just a matter of what is in our minds and hearts or able to be contained in a church building. We are called to go out and proclaim the Good News, to feed the poor, to visit the prisoner, to welcome and care for the immigrant, to educate and speak for the disenfranchised. The very institutions that are being threatened are a true part of our Church and our mission. They must be protected.
I ask that you continue to pray for the success of our dialogue with lawmakers and our legal challenges. I will continue to write on these issues in the Catholic Connection and you can find more information on our diocesan website or the USCCB website. Hateful language does not have a place in this discussion but we should speak out with clear voice that continues to call the discussion back to our concern for the loss of religious freedom and not to other ancillary issues.
I pray that we will be men and women of courageous love for the glory of God, for the good of the Church and for the love of our country, who will work with one voice and heart to protect our religious freedoms. May God bring success to our good work.
Sincerely in Christ our Hope,
+Michael G. Duca
Bishop of Shreveport