The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a new policy that would require all group health care plans provided by employers – including many Catholic institutions – to cover prescription contraceptives and sterilization for women, writes Andy Rota at the BC Observer.
The Interim Final Rules on Preventive Services consider contraceptives and sterilization to be "preventative" services that must be provided free of charge in insurance plans.
Eighteen Roman Catholic colleges signed a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seeking a blanket exemption, writes The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The letter claims the policy would force the colleges to offer birth-control and abortion-causing drugs in their student health plans. Roman Catholic doctrine forbids abortions and the use of contraceptives, and the letter cites religious freedom as the basis for the request.
The HHS policy does contain a "conscience clause" for religious employers who wish to abstain from covering contraceptives for religious reasons. However, the exemption is very narrow, with organizations qualifying only if:
– The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization.
– The organization primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization.
– The organization serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization.
Universities would fail to qualify for the exception if unless they were to hire and serve only Catholics.
"A Catholic institution serving the poor and needy would have to fire its non-Catholic staff, refuse life-affirming care to non-Catholic people in need, and devote itself instead to âthe inculcation of religious values' to qualify for the exemption," said Cardinal DiNardo, Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Archbishop of Galveston-Houston.
"Individuals, insurers, and the sponsors of non-employee health plans (e.g., student health plans in Catholic schools) would have no exemption at all," he explained.