HHS mandate hits home for Charlotte-area Catholic business
GASTONIA — Bob Gallagher and his family are Catholic employers trying to navigate the new Affordable Care Act and the mandate effective Aug. 1 requiring nearly all health insurance plans to include free contraception coverage, despite any conscientious objections employers may have.
Gallagher says his company, Goodwill Publishers, is attempting to carry on the family business of Catholic publishing in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to their Christian values.
The Catholic News Herald asked Gallagher about the contraception mandate and how it is expected to affect his business:
CNH: Since the HHS mandate took effect on Aug. 1, how has it impacted your insurance coverage for your employees?
GALLAGHER: The mandate takes effect for plan years beginning on or after Aug. 1, 2012. Our next plan year begins on May 1, 2013. Consequently, regarding the law itself we have until May to comply. However, at our last renewal we found it almost impossible to obtain coverage under our existing group plan that did not provide for the mandated benefits as well as for direct abortions. It cost us approximately $70,000 more in premiums from the prior year just to duplicate our existing policy that did not cover abortion.
In other words, by having abortion coverage we could have fit into a larger group plan and experienced lower premiums, but to exclude abortion coverage we have to pay $70,000 more per year, which we do. This was not part of the mandate, but it was symptomatic of the environment.
CNH: If there has been no impact yet, when do you anticipate it could be an issue for your business?
GALLAGHER: Effective May 1, 2013, we will be subject to the HHS mandate unless the mandate is ruled unconstitutional as an infringement against the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.
The USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, under the leadership of Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, is leading an heroic effort on behalf of the bishops in the United States against the mandate. Additionally, there have been several lawsuits filed by non-profits fighting this mandate as an infringement on the free exercise of religion. Our own Belmont Abbey College was the very first in the nation to file such a lawsuit.
As the owner of a closely held business, I face the same moral issues as the president of a Catholic college, hospital or non-profit organization. However, I am aware of only two lawsuits filed by for-profit companies. The issue turns on the narrowness of the definition of exempt entities.
Christ and His Apostles would not qualify under this administration's narrow definitions (of what qualifies as a religious employer to be exempt from the contraception mandate). There is clearly an attempt to limit the free exercise of religion to inside the church walls and only with fellow congregants.
CNH: Will you comply with the mandate? If you do not comply, how much do you anticipate paying in fines?
GALLAGHER: I have discussed this issue with a number of theologians and respected Catholic leaders and reviewed commentary on the topic by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, which provides opinions for the USCCB and the Holy See, among others.
Based upon my study, I simply cannot see how a Catholic can knowingly provide health benefits, the object of which is the direct and the intentional taking of an unborn human life or other practices, in direct conflict with the clear teachings of the Church. I guess it boils down to this: you either believe there is a human life at fertilization, the taking of which is immoral; or you believe there is life, but it is OK to take it; or you believe there is no life. Well, if it is not a human life, what is it? And, if it is a human life, what gives anyone the right to kill it?
So we will not comply with the mandate. Hopefully, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the exemption question before May, but if not or they rule against our First Amendment rights, we will not comply and pay the fine. Our fine would be in the $300,000 per year range.
CNH: Do you fear losing employees over this issue?
GALLAGHER: I do not fear losing a large number of employees, even though we will lose some. I do fear hurting employees, who depend upon us for health insurance coverage.
CNH: As a Catholic business owner, what are your thoughts about the mandate and the narrow religious exemption it allows?
GALLAGHER: I believe that this administration wants to drive religious sentiment from the public square. The rules and regulations are being made by individuals with a proven bias towards abortion – even voting on two different occasions to allow babies who survived botched abortions to be cast aside to a garbage pail to die. With this mentality in the White House and the leader of HHS having been an ardent supporter of even late-term abortions, what do you expect? Ideas do indeed have consequences, and the HHS mandate is just one such consequence.
CNH: Have you done any lobbying on behalf of your business with regard to this issue? Have you gone to Washington, D.C., or called representatives to voice your concerns?
GALLAGHER: I have lobbied at the state and federal levels regarding this issue. The sad fact is that the current governor and current president and Senate will block any remedial legislation. The only relief I see now is through the courts and the ballot box. Clearly, the ballot box will give the quickest relief, but there are no assurances here.
CNH: As a business owner, have you ever been faced with anything like this before?
GALLAGHER: I have been in business since 1975 and I have never seen such hostility towards the expression of religious belief in the public square from government, nor such hostility towards business itself from the government.
CNH: Are there any specific comments you would like to make regarding this issue?
GALLAGHER: The issue we are facing is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It is an issue for every citizen who enjoys the freedom to worship God as they see fit, or not to worship at all. It is an issue regarding just what the limits of governmental power are.
If the government can force the Catholic Church or its affiliates, or a private business owner, who objects on clearly-held religious beliefs, to provide contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs for employees, then what can it not force? Why not anything? If the government can limit our First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion by restricting it to the catacombs, why not the other nine in the Bill of Rights? What freedom will be next?
— SueAnn Howell, staff writer
At www.catholicnewsherald.com: Learn more about the Affordable Care Act and keep up with the latest news about the controversial HHS contraception mandate in our religious freedom section.
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy