N.C. bishops ask for action to protest contraception mandate
A rising tide of Catholic anger is being directed toward the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over new health care guidelines forcing Catholic institutions to provide free contraception in their employees' health insurance plans. North Carolina's two bishops, the U.S. bishops and other religious organizations are urging a peaceful protest of the mandate.
In the guidelines, HHS is mandating that private health insurance plans must cover all FDA-approved prescription contraceptive drugs and devices, as well as surgical sterilization. These are listed among "preventive services for women" that all insurers will have to cover without co-pays or other cost to employees, and include abortifacient drugs such as "ella" and "Plan B."
Faith-based organizations, including Catholic hospitals, universities and charitable groups, object to the mandate because it would force them to provide health insurance coverage for services that violate Church teaching on artificial contraception.
Catholic Voice North Carolina, the non-partisan public policy arm of the state's two bishops, Peter Jugis of the Diocese of Charlotte and Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Raleigh, issued an email alert to more than 4,000 subscribers on Jan. 27 asking them to write, call or fax their elected representatives.
North Carolina's bishops joined a chorus of religious leaders nationwide, including USCCB president Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, who are seeking an exemption to the mandate based on the long-standing principle of conscience protection in which an individual is not forced by law to violate his or her beliefs.
In the letter the North Carolina bishops asked the faithful to support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act proposed last week in Congress.
"This measure will ensure that those who participate in the health care system retain the right to provide, purchase or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions," the bishops' letter stated. North Carolina and a majority of other states already provide for a similar religious exemption.
Response to the bishops' call has been strong: within 48 hours more than 700 emails were sent to congressional representatives. Many, like Ken Davison of Gaston County, expressed outrage over the narrow religious exemption that HHS had set forth: religious employers may be exempted from the contraception insurance mandate only if they serve and employ people primarily of their own beliefs. Davison urged the bishops to "publicly fight back, unambiguously telling every Catholic that this is immoral and illegal."
The rules take effect in August for private insurers, while religious institutions have been granted a one-year extension to August 2013 before they must comply with the contraception mandate.
— David Hains, diocesan director of communication
Catholic Voice NC will be providing updates on the HHS mandate at www.catholicvoicenc.org. Membership in the organization is free.
View the video statement by Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, head of the USCCB, at www.usccb.org.
Read the full text of their letter below:
January 27, 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On January 20, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reaffirmed a rule that virtually all private health care plans must cover sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception. The rule is set to take effect August 1,2012. Non-profit religious employers including the Dioceses of Charlotte and Raleigh that do not now provide such coverage, and are not exempt under the rule's extremely narrow definition of religious employer, will be given one year—until August 1, 2013—to comply.
Responding to the announcement, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated: "In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences."
Last August, the HHS issued a list of "preventive services for women" to be mandated in almost all private health plans under the new health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The mandated services include sterilization, all FDA-approved birth control and "education and counseling" to promote these among all "women of reproductive capacity."
HHS's proposed rule allowed only a very narrow exemption for a "religious employer." In September and December of 2011, CatholicVoiceNC.org issued action alerts on this matter at a time when HHS was seeking comment on the proposed rules. The January 20 announcement makes the proposed rule final.
To correct the threats to religious liberty and rights of conscience posed by PPACA, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act has been introduced in Congress (H.R. 1179, S. 1467). This measure will ensure that those who participate in the health care system "retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions."
ACTION: Contact your U.S. Representative by e-mail, phone, or FAX letter:
* Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at: 202-224-3121, or call your Members' local offices.
* Send an e-mail through CVNC's Grassroots Action Center.
Thank you for all you do in support of life.
The Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh
The Most Reverend Peter J. Jugis, Bishop of Charlotte
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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