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USCCB Calls Statement in VP Debate "Inaccurate"

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WASHINGTON—The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued the following statement, October 12.  Full text follows: 

Last night, the following statement was made during the Vice Presidential debate regarding the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force virtually all employers to include sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees: 

“With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.” 

This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain “religious employers.” That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to “Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,” or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served. 

HHS has proposed an additional “accommodation” for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as “non-exempt.” That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation “to pay for contraception” and “to be a vehicle to get contraception.” They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries. 

USCCB continues to urge HHS, in the strongest possible terms, actually to eliminate the various infringements on religious freedom imposed by the mandate. 

The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, a member of the USCCB Administrative Committee, has joined his brother bishops in challenging the statement. “The HHS mandate is a clear violation of our guaranteed Constitutional rights to freedom of religion,” Bishop Burbidge said.

“Contrary to what was said in the debate, the mandate, in effect, will impact the large majority of Catholic institutions and organizations, such as Catholic hospitals and Catholic Charities throughout our nation, which serve all people regardless of creed. It is a direct attack on religious liberty and freedom of conscience.”

“My concern for such accelerated threats was conveyed in my Red Mass homily,” Bishop Burbidge said. “Together, we must ask the Holy Spirit to guide and enlighten all guardians of the law so they always remember life and liberty are gifts that come from the hand of God!”

For more details, please see USCCB’s regulatory comments filed on May 15 regarding the proposed “accommodation”: Read more here (PDF).