On July 19th the Huffington Post published an article entitled “Catholic Bishops Promote ‘Natural’ Family Planning Amid Battle Over Contraception Mandate.” While I certainly have issues with the content of this article, I will choose to focus on the title because I believe that the title is misleading. It is true that the Bishops and many Catholic writers have taken the opportunity to write about and discuss Natural Family Planning (NFP). However, this is not simply a battle between NFP and contraception. While that conversation is one worth having, the Bishops’ (and other religious) opposition to the HHS Mandate goes far beyond the immorality contraception.
Targeting the Bishops’ stance on contraception is a way to distract Americans from the real problem that the Bishops have with the mandate. The true issue here is that our government is requiring that all employers provide health plans that include hormonal contraception, early abortifacient drugs and sterilization. These services must be provided by employers even if they have a religious objection to these services. Requiring that they provide these services violates their First Amendment right to the freedom of religion. Those who are opposed to the mandate are not trying to diminish existing access to contraception, even if they are morally opposed to the use of contraception.
In addition to having their religious liberty violated, the institutions that do not comply with the mandate will be subjected to heavy fines. These fines are not simply the coverage cost for birth control and other services, but an exorbitant amount. Here are the words directly from the CRS Report:
A group health plan that fails to comply with the pertinent requirements in the IRC may be subject to a tax of $100 for each day in the noncompliance period with respect to each individual to whom such failure relates. However, if failures are not corrected before a notice of examination for tax liability is sent to the employer, and these failures occur or continue during the period under examination, the penalty will not be less than $2,500. Where violations are considered to be more than de minimis, the amount will not be less than $15,000.
Yes. You read that right. That’s $100, per day per employee (from my understanding this only applies to women, since these “preventative services” are for women). That’s alot of money. Say you have 25 employees. Violation of the Mandate for just ONE day would cost $2,500. That’s not the end of it… There’s more in the press release from the Energy and Commerce Committee:
Consequently, for example, if a self-insured religious charity or hospital with 100 employees chooses to exercise its religious rights instead of complying with the Obamacare mandate, it could be subject to a $3.65 million annual fine.
So, the reason the HHS department wants this Mandate is because they believe that a woman should have access to free birth control regardless of who her employer is. But if her employer chooses to exercise his/her religious freedom and does not comply with mandate, women (and men) will be losing their jobs because these institutions do not have the annual 3.65 million dollars to pay the government. How is this really helping and protecting women? How is this bringing more jobs to the American economy?
Some people may say, “Well, women NEED birth control.” I disagree with such sentiments, but regardless of what I think on the subject the fact is that contraception is already widely available. State and federal governments devote hundreds of millions of dollars in annual funds to provide free or low-cost contraception to American women. 4,000 Title X clinics have provided contraceptives since 1970— 69% of clients fall below the poverty line. Over $300 million is annually given to PlannedParenthood and community health centers that provide contraceptives at low costs or free (Elise Kulik, presentation at the University of Michigan). Contraception is not scarce, and one who needs financial assistance can get it for very cheap, if not free. Why strip religious individuals and groups of their rights – rights that are supposed to be protected by the Constitution of the United States of America – to provide women these services that are easily accessible? In the video below, Representative Gowdy challenges Kathleen Sebelius (lady in charge of the Mandate) on whether she actually used the Constitutional Balance while drafting this Mandate and the ensuing “compromises” made for religious individuals and groups.
As the Bishops and others oppose the Mandate, please keep in mind that they are not necessarily seeking to reduce the access described above. They are not trying to make birth control illegal. They are begging the Administration to create an exemption that allows religious employers to act according to the beliefs of their faith – and in this case, that means not purchasing and providing birth control, abortifacient drugs, and sterilizations.
Many Catholics support universal healthcare, even some of the Bishops. But we cannot support this piece of it because it is in violation of our conscience and our Church’s teaching (a well known and well documented teaching, at that). When the government asks us to choose between our religion and the law, we will choose to obey God and the Church. Unfortunately, this likely means the closing of many Catholic and other religious charities, adoption agencies, hospitals and non-profit organizations. And as mentioned, this means the loss of jobs for both American men and women.
Please do more reading as I have only provided a very brief summary on this issue. Here are some links to helpful websites. Also, check out this video in which Helen Alvare addresses some of the issues regarding contraception, the government, religious liberty and the well-being of women.