Washington D.C., Aug 4, 2012 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston urged members of Congress to take swift action against the federal contraception mandate as it goes into effect for many employers around the country.
The cardinal emphasized that the U.S. bishops “continue to advocate for life-affirming health care for all, especially for poor and vulnerable people,” but added that they “do not see this policy as a step in that direction.”
In an August 3 letter to members of Congress, Cardinal DiNardo, who chairs the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke out against a federal mandate that requires employers to provide health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
The mandate’s initial implementation began on August 1, and the regulation now applies to the majority of U.S. employers as soon as they begin or renew their health insurance plan. Non-profit employers that do not already provide this coverage due to religious convictions are given a “safe harbor” from the mandate until August 1, 2013.
The cardinal lamented that “despite widespread opposition to this coercive policy by religious organizations, lawmakers and the general public, Congress has still taken no action to counter it.”
He noted that the Senate tabled a “corrective proposal” by a mere 51 votes, after false claims arose that it would prevent Americans from receiving the health care protections they have under existing laws.
And while the House has incorporated a similar proposal into its Health and Human Services appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2013, it appears that “this legislation will not be considered until next March, months after the mandate has been imposed on most employers,” he said.
Insisting that Congressional action is “overdue,” Cardinal DiNardo observed that the mandate also requires coverage of “counseling and education” to promote the objectionable products to women and girls of childbearing age.
And this coverage will be “automatically” imposed on employees and their dependent teenage children, despite any religious or moral objections they might have, he said.
Furthermore, with its “grudging and arbitrary” view of religious freedom, the mandate completely lacks an exemption for non-religious businesses operated by “devout individuals and families” whose moral convictions forbid them to offer the required coverage, the cardinal warned.
Even though these employers have been offering health coverage that they find acceptable without any complaint from employees, they will now be penalized with a tax of $100 a day per employee for continuing this practice, he said.
He pointed to four pending lawsuits against the mandate, filed by Catholic business owners in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania, as well as Legatus, an association of approximately 2,000 Catholics who are committed to operating their companies in accordance with their faith.
The administration argues that these businesses are entirely secular and therefore have “no claim on religious freedom,” he said. “In effect, if an organization is ‘for profit,’ it is not allowed to be ‘for’ anything else.”
The cardinal welcomed a July 27 decision by federal district judge John Kane to grant a preliminary injunction blocking the mandate from being enforced against one Catholic-owned company that makes heating and air conditioning units in Colorado.
However, he noted that this injunction is only temporary and does not apply to the dozens of other nonprofit organizations and for-profit employers that have filed lawsuits against the mandate. These plaintiffs will continue to press for the courts to protect their right to religious liberty.
Recognizing that “timely and uniform protection of these rights cannot be expected from the current lengthy judicial process,” Cardinal DiNardo urged lawmakers to address the issue without delay.
“The fundamental importance of the religious freedom issue at stake demands a timely congressional response,” he said.