Bishops issue alert on HHS regulations
CHARLOTTE — As the Sept. 30 deadline for comments draws near, North Carolina's two bishops have issued an alert through Catholic Voice NC asking Catholics to oppose regulations that could become part of the new health care law.
The proposed regulations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services set up new preventative health care coverage that all employers must cover specifically for women at no cost starting on Aug. 1, 2012. That coverage includes services such as mammograms, prenatal care and cervical cancer screenings, but it also mandates free contraception, sterilizations and drugs considered by the Church to be abortifacients – all of which are contrary to Catholic teaching.
Religious organizations have typically been exempt from regulations that conflict with their beliefs, but in this case, the contraception mandate is accompanied by a stricter definition of which religious employers may be exempt.
For a religious employer that does not want to offer such services, the regulation sets out a narrow exemption: An exempt religious employer is one that "(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a nonprofit organization" under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code. The exact language of the exemption was announced Aug. 1 by HHS.
In a statement earlier this month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said, "This poses an unprecedented threat to individual and institutional religious freedom." The USCCB has urged HSS to remove the contraception mandate and revise the religious exemption definition, bringing it more into line with what 28 states – including North Carolina – already use.
Terri Wilhelm, diocesan human resources director, said the Charlotte diocese – like all Catholic employers, including Catholic universities and schools, Catholic hospitals, and Catholic social ministries – may be forced to choose from three bad options: offer contraception coverage, limit its ministries to serving Catholics only, or stop offering insurance to its employees altogether.
Right now, North Carolina includes contraception coverage for employers, but the Charlotte and Raleigh dioceses are exempt as religious organizations.
Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte and Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh issued an alert this week on the matter through Catholic Voice North Carolina, the non-partisan public policy Web site, www.CatholicVoiceNC.org. The alert was sent to 4,000 participants.
In the Diocese of Charlotte, bulletin inserts explaining the problem were also scheduled to be inserted into parish bulletins over the weekend of Sept. 24-25. The bulletin inserts were also to be distributed at the 2011 Eucharistic Congress in Charlotte.
— David Hains, Diocesan Director of Communication
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