The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is calling on Congress to support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179). The bishops are renewing their call for passage of the Act following a proposal from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that private health plans be required to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The 16-member IOM panel said all women of reproductive age should have access to "the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures and patient education and counseling."
In a July 22, 2011, letter expressing strong opposition to the IOM proposal, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the USCCB, said the recommendation indicates “there is an ideology at work...that goes beyond any objective assessment of the health needs of women and children.
“Those who sponsor, purchase and issue health plans,” Cardinal DiNardo wrote, “should not be forced to violate their deeply held moral and religious convictions in order to take part in the health care system or provide for the needs of their families or their employees. To force such an unacceptable choice would be as much a threat to universal access to health care as it is to freedom of conscience.”
Cardinal DiNardo said that respect for conscience rights in health care has received bipartisan support for decades. He cited examples such as the Church amendment, which protects participants in federal health programs from being discriminated against for their objection to abortion, sterilization and other procedures, and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which exempts religiously affiliated health plans from any contraceptive mandate.
"Without sufficient legal protection for rights of conscience, such a mandate would force all men, women and children to carry health coverage that violates the deeply held moral and religious convictions of many," Cardinal DiNardo added.
In its call for passage of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, the US bishops noted Cardinal DiNardo’s statement that the legislation, introduced by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Dan Boren (D-OK), would prevent any new mandates under health care reform from being used to disregard Americans’ freedom of conscience.
Human and Health Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius is expected to act on the IOM recommendation by August 1.
Read Cardinal DiNardo’s letter to Congress.