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September 21, 2011 | The Long Island Catholic Vol. 50, No. 20 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY

This year and in the years ahead, the US government will be implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) signed into law last year by President Obama. Experts tell me that there are more than 1,000 provisions in the law that call for the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) to write regulations that will determine how the law is brought into operation and what effects it will have on us all. The Secretary of HHS and her staff in that office will have great leeway in developing these new rules and in seeing to their execution.

Among the first of these new sets of regulations is one that deals, among other things, with “preventive services.” Groups such as the Institute of Medicine (IOM) are urging HHS to guarantee, under this rubric, surgical sterilization, all FDA approved birth control, including the IUD, “morning after” pills and the abortion inducing drug Ella. In addition they are calling for “education and counseling” to promote these among ‘women of reproductive capacity.’ Planned Parenthood is lobbying to make this IOM agenda obligatory in the new regulations. If these are contained in the final regulations from HHS, it will mean that all insurance plans — private and public — will be mandated to include these with no co-pay from anyone receiving them.

There are two fundamental problems in these proposals that seem likely to be part of the future unless we raise our voices to say NO. The first is that these practices are morally objectionable not only for Catholics but for very many others in our society who will have to bear the cost or will be involved now in being subjected to pressure to use such practices. The second is that there is little or no exception to allow for freedom of conscience for individuals or for institutions. This will have a negative effect on everyone’s medical insurance plans. It will also place a mandate on all Catholic and other religious health providers, which includes our own Catholic hospitals, to provide coverage for things that are morally objectionable.

There are two things I ask all of you to do. First, please note that HHS, which is ready to make these part of the new regulations, has left open a slight window of opportunity. Until Friday September 30, anyone can write, call, or email HHS to voice opposition to these new proposed mandates. You can do that by clicking on the U.S. Bishops’ Conference website, and following the instructions. You also can find this opportunity on our website, and directly on the website of the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, www.nchla/actiondisplay.asp?ID=299.

Please do this right now or today if possible. There is very little time. We need to do our best to let the Office of HHS know that pregnancy is not a disease and should not be treated as if it is; that human life must be respected from conception to natural death; that every person and every legitimate institution has a right, not from the State but from God, to refuse to do what violates conscience or is contrary to divine and natural law; and that government should not use taxpayer money to subsidize programs that promote or mandate such practices.

If we succeed, we will have scored a great victory for human life and dignity and have made a step forward in the protection of the rights of conscience and religious freedom. However, this will not stop. It will go on after this. There is only one way to avoid having to be vigilant and reject these incursions time and time again. That one way is at our disposal. It is called the Respect for the Rights of Conscience Act (HR 1179 and S 1467). Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo is Chairman of the USCCB Pro-Life Committee. On September 7, he wrote to both the Senate and the House to express the support of the U.S. Bishops Conference for this act. His letter is also on the USCCB website.

In that letter Cardinal DiNardo points out that the Respect for the Rights of Conscience Act (RRCA) “would change no current state or federal mandate for health coverage but simply prevent any new mandates to disregard the freedom of conscience that Americans now enjoy.” To re-affirm respect for the rights of conscience that belong to us human beings by God’s design and by our American Constitution would seem to be the kind of legislation that every member of Congress, regardless of party affiliation, would be proud to sponsor and support.

It is not an exaggeration to say that respect for individual and institutional freedom of conscience — along with respect for the rights of freedom of religion — have been under attack in our country and other western countries for some time now. It is not just the professional anti-theists like Richard Dawkins who seek to oppose religious faith and all rights of religious expression, there are judges who agree with every attempt to privatize religion or deny the expression thereof. Regulations like the proposed new HHS regulations can easily become the order of the day. Such regulations could have the effect of forcing individuals to take part in procedures that go against one’s conscience. The recent New York state law that legalizes same-sex “marriage” carries the most minimal protection for the conscience rights of those who cannot accept such unions as marriage. These minimal “exceptions” are just that, an “exception” to the law, not a recognition of the rights a person has by virtue of one’s humanity, rights protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by the First Amendment until now.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is supporting with all its resources the move to pass the RRCA in the coming year. In due time we will be inviting Catholics to join us in voicing our desire for protection of individual and institutional rights through this act. Now we are asking — and invite all our faithful to join us in asking — our members of Congress and our Senators to co-sponsor the Respect for the Rights of Conscience Act (HR 1179 and S 1467). Please join us in this important effort to assure that the rights of every person’s conscience will be respected in our land.


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