Counterpunch: the USCCB answers the White House defense of HHS ruling

Over at the USCCB website, they’ve posted the following statement, in response to a White House blog post on the HHS ruling:


The Obama administration, to justify its widely criticized mandate for contraception and sterilization coverage in private health plans, has posted a set of false and misleading claims on the White House blog (“Health Reform, Preventive Services, and Religious Institutions,” February 1).In what follows, each White House claim is quoted with a response.

Claim: “Churches are exempt from the new rules: Churches and other houses of worship will be exempt from the requirement to offer insurance that covers contraception.”

Response: This is not entirely true.To be eligible, even churches and houses of worship must show the government that they hire and serve primarily people of their own faith and have the inculcation of religious values as their purpose.Some churches may have service to the broader community as a major focus, for example, by providing direct service to the poor regardless of faith.Such churches would be denied an exemption precisely because their service to the common good is so great.More importantly,the vast array of other religious organizations – schools, hospitals, universities, charitable institutions – will clearly not be exempt.

Claim: “No individual health care provider will be forced to prescribe contraception: The President and this Administration have previously and continue to express strong support for existing conscience protections.For example, no Catholic doctor is forced to write a prescription for contraception.”

Response: It is true that these rules directly apply to employers and insurers, not providers, but this is beside the point:The Administration is forcing individuals and institutions, including religious employers, to sponsor and subsidize what they consider immoral.Less directly, the classification of these drugs and procedures as basic “preventive services” will increase pressures on doctors, nurses and pharmacists to provide them in order to participate in private health plans – and no current federal conscience law prevents that from happening.Finally, because the mandate includes abortifacient drugs, it violates one of the “existing conscience protections” (the Weldon amendment) for which the Administration expresses “strong support.”

Claim: “No individual will be forced to buy or use contraception: This rule only applies to what insurance companies cover.Under this policy, women who want contraception will have access to it through their insurance without paying a co-pay or deductible.But no one will be forced to buy or use contraception.”

Response: The statement that no one will be forced to buy it is false.Women who want contraception will be able to obtain it without co-pay or deductible precisely because women who do not want contraception will be forced to help pay for it through their premiums.This mandate passes costs from those who want the service, to those who object to it.

Claim: “Drugs that cause abortion are not covered by this policy: Drugs like RU486 are not covered by this policy, and nothing about this policy changes the President’s firm commitment to maintaining strict limitations on Federal funding for abortions. No Federal tax dollars are used for elective abortions.”

Response: False.The policy already requires coverage of Ulipristal (HRP 2000 or “Ella”), a drug that is a close analogue to RU-486 (mifepristone) and has the same effects.[i] RU-486 itself is also being tested for possible use as an “emergency contraceptive” – and if the FDA approves it for that purpose, it will automatically be mandated as well.

Claim:“Over half of Americans already live in the 28 States that require insurance companies cover contraception: Several of these States like North Carolina, New York, and California have identical religious employer exemptions.Some States like Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemption at all.”

Response: This misleads by ignoring important facts, and some of it is simply false.All the state mandates, even those without religious exemptions, may be avoided by self-insuring prescription drug coverage, by dropping that particular coverage altogether, or by taking refuge in a federal law that pre-empts any state mandates (ERISA).None of these havens is available under the federal mandate.It is also false to claim that North Carolina has an identical exemption.It is broader:It does not require a religious organization to serve primarily people of its own faith, or to fulfill the federal rule’s narrow tax code criterion.Moreover, the North Carolina law, unlike the federal mandate, completely excludes abortifacient drugs like Ella and RU-486 as well as “emergency contraceptives” like Preven.

Claim: “Contraception is used by most women: According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, most women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, have used contraception.”

Response: This is irrelevant, and it is presented in a misleading way. If a survey found that 98% of people had lied, cheated on their taxes, or had sex outside of marriage, would the government claim it can force everyone to do so? But this claim also mangles the data to create a false impression.The study actually says this is true of 98% of “sexually experienced” women.The more relevant statistic is that the drugs and devices subject to this mandate (sterilization, hormonal prescription contraceptives and IUDs) are used by 69% of those women who are “sexually active” and “do not want to become pregnant.”Surely that is a minority of the general public, yet every man and woman who needs health insurance will have to pay for this coverage.The drugs that the mandate’s supporters say will be most advanced by the new rule, because they have the highest co-pays and deductibles now, are powerful but risky injectable and implantable hormonal contraceptives, now used by perhaps 5% of women.The mandate is intended to change women’s reproductive behavior, not only reflect it.

Claim: “Contraception coverage reduces costs: While the monthly cost of contraception for women ranges from $30 to $50, insurers and experts agree that savings more than offset the cost.The National Business Group on Health estimated that it would cost employers 15 to 17 percent more not to provide contraceptive coverage than to provide such coverage, after accounting for both the direct medical costs of potentially unintended and unhealthy pregnancy and indirect costs such as employee absence and reduced productivity.”

Response: The government is violating our religious freedom to save money?If the claim is true it is hard to say there is a need for a mandate: Secular insurers and employers who don’t object will want to purchase the coverage to save money, and those who object can leave it alone.But this claim also seems to rest on some assumptions: That prescription contraceptives are the only way to avoid “unintended and unhealthy pregnancy,” for example, or that increasing access to contraceptives necessarily produces significant reductions in unintended pregnancies.The latter assumption has been cast into doubt by numerous studies (see

Claim: “The Obama Administration is committed to both respecting religious beliefs and increasing access to important preventive services. And as we move forward, our strong partnerships with religious organizations will continue.”

Response: False.There is no “balance” in the final HHS rule—one side has prevailed entirely, as the mandate and exemption remain entirely unchanged from August 2011, despite many thousands of comments filed since then indicating intense opposition.Indeed, the White House Press Secretary declared on January 31, “I don’t believe there are any constitutional rights issues here,” so little was placed on that side of the scale.The Administration’s stance on religious liberty has also been shown in other ways.Recently it argued before the Supreme Court that religious organizations have no greater right under the First amendment to hire or fire their own ministers than secular organizations have over their leaders– a claim that was unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court as “extreme” and “untenable.”The Administration recently denied a human trafficking grant to a Catholic service provider with high objective scores, and gave part of that grant instead to a provider with not just lower, but failing, objective scores, all because the Catholic provider refused in conscience to compromise the same moral and religious beliefs at issue here.Such action violates not only federal conscience laws, but President Obama’s executive order assuring “faith-based” organizations that they will be able to serve the public in federal programs without compromising their faith.

[i] See A. Tarantal, et al., 54 Contraception 107-115 (1996), at 114 (“studies with mifepristone and HRP 2000 have shown both antiprogestins to have roughly comparable activity in terminating pregnancy when administered during the early stages of gestation”); G. Bernagiano & H. von Hertzen, 375 The Lancet 527-28 (Feb. 13, 2010), at 527 (“Ulipristal has similar biological effects to mifepristone, the antiprogestin used in medical abortion”).


  1. Impeach Obama.

  2. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    THE First Amendment: a dead issue in this administration and in the liberal media. Compare the media volcanic explosion over a rational grant cut for Planned Parenthood by the Komen Foundation because the Komen Foundation is a breast cancer fighting charity, not part of the abortion industry that PP is so much a part of. There are plenty of other organizations other than PP which could, for example provide
    mammograms –which PP rarely or never does. And there were no rights issues at stake because the debate involved private charities, yet senators and congressmen–government intimidators–got involved on the PP side.
    On the other hand the issue involving the Church IS about government coercion and intimidation. Yet the media gives barely a shred of coverage to the more important major issues of First Amendment freedoms and the power of the state to abrogate religious

  3. Things are different this time. Definitely different.

  4. Excellent points, I will use them myself!

  5. The White House mandate has some First Amendment issues that will need to be sorted out by courts. The PP-Komen dispute had none. It was a dispute between private charities, and one which, for better or worse, was settled by public opinion and clumsy PR. Some elected officials put in their own opinions of the matter, but that hardly amounts to “intimidation.” The only instance of an official intimidation is the investigation of PP by a member of Congress who has clear ideological motivations for launching it. That is a First Amendment violation which was calculated to marginalize and financially damage PP, regardless of the merits of the case. No one in the anti-abortion camp seems too upset about that abuse of the First Amendment. They’re just sore it didn’t work.

  6. vox borealis says:

    You’ve written this before and from what I am seeing, you are certainly right. These are not the actions of the bishops of my youth, thankfully.

  7. Let’s say I lived in a Community where the only gainful employment I could find was with the Catholic Church. Let’s also say my poor wife was among a minority of people prone to ectopic pregnancies. Let’s say after barely surviving the last tubal pregnancy she decides to have them tied. . . I’d have to beg borrow or steal the means because tubal ligation would be against your beliefs?

    Good thing I’m just making all this up. . .

  8. Ed, I hope you are right and that this time, this election, the Catholic Church stands up and educates as they are starting to do with this release. Nothing surprising in that the Obama administration is running rampant with lies and distortions. It has in almost everything it has done since election and frankly to get elected. this move certainly seems to have opened eyes in the USCCB. I also love how the Pope got involved early on in the process showing support to the Bishops. With their eyes wide open, now hope they can finally unite in a lot more issues that separate people of faith from the party of death and distortion and the party that seems to have little use for the Constitution of this country.

  9. Things are no different Ed Peters. Obama was against helping babies who survived abortions in 2007/8.

    shame on you.

  10. Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB says:

    “Claim: ‘Contraception is used by most women: According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, most women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, have used contraception.’
    Response: This is irrelevant, and it is presented in a misleading way. If a survey found that 98% of people had lied, cheated on their taxes, or had sex outside of marriage, would the government claim it can force everyone to do so?”

    My Comment:
    Whatever the government’s faults in this decision, the government is not claiming that, because 98% of Catholic women have used contraception, therefore the government can force everyone to use contraception. But the Response argues as if the government is claiming that.

    I think the Catholic Church’s objection to this government policy would be much stronger if we Catholics would stick to logic, reason, and the facts. Such irrational hyperbole as the above weakens our case. I call on my fellow Catholics to sort out their solid arguments from weak ones such as this such as this. Alas, so far, much Catholic critique has been a sad mix of facts and exaggerations and flights into illogical fantasy. This is not helping our cause!

    Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB

  11. Obama has crossed the line, he is a now officially a despot. Little Domitian redidivus. This is just the last, and the worse of a series of assaults on Religion, specially thr Roman Catholic Church. I pray he changes his mind, but I doubt it. Vote him out of office in November.

  12. God Bless you Father. Our problem is our Bishops and our priest, our deacons, nuns and especially the lay people such as myself.(the Church). We have not fought the good fight against evil. Most of us have turned a blind eye to the culture of death. We embraced “hope” for feeding the poor and granting them health care in exchange for the murder of the unborn. Blind people can’t claim they didn’t know the train was coming when they can hear the whistle getting closer, especially when they are only blind because they have their eye closed.

  13. kindheartedmom says:

    Haples, there are no easy ‘earthly’ answers to your hypothetical situation.
    The bible tells us that the consequence of sin is death. Sexual relations are to be between a husband and wife – otherwise, the act is a sin.
    The NIH says that most ectopic pregnancies can be prevented by having only one sexual partner, by not smoking, and by avoid in vitro fertilizaton. The other causes of ectopic pregnancy, while rare, are not preventable.
    The hypothetical husband and wife in your scenario could accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior, and be assured of eternal life.
    If your ‘hypothetical wife’ were to explain her situation to me personally, I would give her a donation toward her surgery – help her collect money from other sources and donors – and I’d bring her meals post-op.
    Re-writing a federal insurance mandate around this highly unlikely scenario does not seem a viable solution.
    I doubt you’ll like my reply, but I hope you will at least reflect on it.

  14. “women who do not want contraception will be forced to help pay for it through their premiums.This mandate passes costs from those who want the service, to those who object to it.”
    As a woman who always used contraception, I did not appreciate paying for the obstetrical costs for women who had multiple babies, nor did I appreciate paying for all their dependent children in my insurance pool. The Church is so tender about the Catholic conscience, and so dismissive of everyone else’s.

  15. With respect to all Catholics posting here, remember that all current events, whether political or religious have to be seen with the eyes of faith. God is the Lord of the Universe and the Lord of History and nothing happens without His permission. The current state of Catholicism and Christianity in general is in alarming decline..some say we are in the age of “apostasy” as predicted by St Paul in 1 Thess 2:3. How does the rise of an anti-Christian man, like President Obama, come to power unless the people themselves are in a state of spiritual blindness?
    If a people will not listen to God and His Word and obey His Commandments, then He will withhold his hand of protection and allow us to wallow in our sins, until we come to our senses and plead for His Mercy to deliver us from evil. The proliferation of sin, particularly, the sin of abortion and homosexuality has now enveloped the entire world. The bible says and confirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that there are five sins which “cry to Heaven for vengeance”, among which are the sins of Sodomy (homosexuality)[Gen 18:20] and wilful murder (killings of all types but especially abortion) [Gen 4:10].
    This president, in the opinion of many, is Muslim (both his father’s were Muslim, therefore, Obama is a Muslim) by religion, attended Muslim schools as a boy in Indonesia, and said that the most beautiful sound on earth is the Islamic call to prayer. It doesn’t matter that he say’s he’s a Christian. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, himself a vocal proponent of liberation theology, promotes a teaching that has been roundly condemned by the Catholic Church because of its linkage with Communism. Of all Christian pastors, this is the most influential man who shaped the views of Obama. The other of course, is the radical, devotee of Satan, Saul Alinsky and his chief work, “Rules for Radicals” and which Obama was an eager disciple of.
    Obama uses Islam and Communism as his guiding principles and shapes who he is. Those who were unaware of who this man was, should have been warned by the Episcopacy as “shephards of the flock of Jesus Christ”, that Obama represented a “clear and present danger” to the life of Catholics and Christians.
    But as I mentioned initially, everything must be filtered through the events of the prophecies of Our Lady of Fatima. Obama is the personification of “the errors” of Russia. He is an active proponent of abortion and the fact that he rarely goes to any Church, indicates he’s not a devout Christian believer (apostate) or he’s believes in Islam (he’s a Muslim), or has not faith at all (an atheist). The chief “error of Russia” is its rejection of the rule of God and replacing it with an atheistic ideology called Communism. A radical has no need for God, and it is quite conceivable that Obama uses the Islamic practice of Taqqiya, or lying to non-Muslims in order to hide the true intentions of Islam -that is, establish the world-wide rule of Islam, while claiming to be a Christian.
    Our Lady of Fatima, on June 13, 1917, out of concern for the vast multitudes of souls that perish for all eternity (which conceivably includes Catholics, protestant Christians, Jews, Muslims, pagans, Hindus, etc who willfully reject Christ) showed the 3 Fatima children a vision the realisty of Hell. Afterwards, She asked for “the Consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If My requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated.”
    Since we know that the Consecration of Russia has not been done, we see the tragic consequences in our world now, more than ever. Obama is permitted by God to “persecute the Church”.
    One final point..The Blessed Virgin Mary chose the portugese hamlet of Fatima to make her most important prophecies to man. This was confirmed by the “great sign” – the Great Miracle of the Sun- that all may believe in the authenticity of Her Message from God and cited in Rev 12:1. The town of Fatima was renamed Fatima by a Muslim Princess, after marrying the Count of Ourem, and converting to Catholicism before her death. Our Lady of Fatima’s apparition is a call to man, but especially those under the false religion of Islam, to convert to the One, True Faith.
    Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!

  16. You are entirely free to use whatever means of contraception you like. If you work for a Catholic organization and you want contraception, you have the choice to either find alternate insurance coverage or find a job where there is no impediment. The Obama administration has crossed the line on this one.

  17. So if you work for a Catholic organization, you are a second-class citizen who does not get the level of health care mandated for ALL employers to give their employees.

  18. The other issue is that, using quotes, the USCCB says the survey was asking “sexually experienced” women about their use of contraception when the actual text:

    talks about “women 15-44 who have ever had intercourse.” Those two terms imply very different things. “Sexually experienced” might bring to mind a whole host of prejudicial images which are not only not justified, they are, as the USCCB says, irrelevant.

    Faith is not a democracy, organized religion doubly so. Describing the 98.2% of American women 15 – 44 who’ve used contraception in what could be read as negative terms does no one any good. For shame.

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