The announcement today from the Obama administration that it is granting a more robust accommodation for religious institutions who object to providing contraception coverage is a sensible move. The values of protecting women’s health and the conscience rights of religious employers should not be in conflict.
The provision that nearly all employers must provide contraceptive services under the federal health care reform law has sparked a long, messy fight between the Obama administration, Catholic bishops and some conservative evangelicals. This fight is far from over. A dozen separate legal challenges to the administration’s mandate are now winding through the courts. Because judges have reached different conclusions, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely make the final call.
The most significant news from today’s announcement is that the administration’s “four-part test” of what constitutes a “religious employer” — a major sticking point for Catholic universities, charities and hospitals — has been scrapped for a simpler IRS definition. Under the original proposal, employers could be exempt from the contraception mandate only if their purpose was to inculcate religious values, they primarily employed those who shared their religious tenets, primarily served those who shared their religious beliefs and were a nonprofit under federal tax law. The first three parts of that definition were a big problem for religiously affiliated institutions like Catholic hospitals, universities and charities. For Catholics, medical institutions and charities are not tangential to a religious commitment, but central to putting faith into practice. Respected Catholic organizations like the Catholic Health Association, which supported the health care reform law and has distanced itself from the strident rhetoric of some bishops had been urging the administration to make this fix. At the same time, the administration’s proposals announced today, which are open to a 60-day public comment period, will still ensure women have access to contraception coverage without a co-pay. This is a victory for women’s health and the conscience rights of religious employers.
It will take time for various religious organizations to digest the details of today’s announcement, and tensions won’t disappear overnight. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, put out a brief initial statement saying bishops “welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely.”
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Today, a diverse coalition of national and state faith leaders held a press teleconference urging GOP governors to stop obstructing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion plan that will provide healthcare to millions of uninsured, low-income Americans if fully implemented.
Despite the fact that the expanded coverage will save their states billions of dollars in uncompensated care costs, nine Republican governors have indicated their intention to reject the tens of billions of dollars in federal assistance offered to their states by the law.
As FPL executive director Jennifer Butler said on the call:
Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid will save lives and alleviate suffering for poor families without straining state budgets. It’s unconscionable that politicians would even consider refusing to accept it.
Sister Simone Campbell of NETWORK and “Nuns on the Bus” fame added:
I call on all governors to expand Medicaid coverage in order to save thousands of lives. My strong support of Medicaid expansion comes out of my pro-life stance because it is the right and moral thing to do.
Other call speakers included Melissa Boteach, Director of Half-in-Ten; Rev. Linda Hanna Walling, Executive Director of Faithful Reform in Healthcare; Rev. Rayfield Burns, Pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist, Kansas City, MO; and Elder Marco A. Grimaldo, CEO & President of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.
Listen to the call here.
Supplementing the call is a letter expressing the same sentiment and signed by nearly 100 national and local faith leaders. Read that letter and see the full list of signers here.
The call and letter come in advance of the release of the United States Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage data on September 12th, which is expected to show that millions of Americans who would be affected by this expansion are suffering for lack of access to affordable health insurance.
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It’s hard to describe the relief I felt when the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act.
The outcome of the case was literally a matter of life and death for struggling families and people discriminated against by health insurance companies. Thanks to Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kagan, Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Breyer, tens of millions of Americans will no longer be at risk of getting cut off from the care they need. Roberts, who has a very conservative record, shocked observers of all stripes by breaking ranks with the right wing and upholding the law. Dozens of nationally prominent faith leaders expressed strong approval of the decision.
Unfortunately one of the Affordable Care Act’s most important features – the expansion of Medicaid to cover all Americans who make less than 133% of the poverty level – was weakened by Roberts’s opinion. States may now opt out of this provision easily even though federal funding covers the overwhelming majority of the expense and refusing to accept it would take healthcare coverage away from struggling families.
Some Republican governors appear eager to deprive their constituents of healthcare. Already five GOP governors – Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida and Terry Branstad of Iowa – have announced that they will refuse federal funding to expand Medicaid. This could deprive up to 1.4 million people of coverage. Numerous other GOP leaders are threatening to follow suit. Taking away people’s access to quality, affordable healthcare isn’t just cynical, it’s sinful. Putting the ideological demands of the Tea Party before the well-being of families isn’t
principled, it’s cowardly.
One of the reasons Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in the first place was because clergy and faith-based community organizers lifted up the human consequences and moral issues at stake. We can make the same impact now as we did back then.
The “Nuns on the Bus: Nuns Drive for Faith, Family and Fairness” tour, which concluded with an inspirational rally and press conference in Washington yesterday, strongly rebuked Congressman Paul Ryan’s immoral federal budget priorities and presented a faithful alternative. The Sisters on the bus received overwhelming popular support and extensive media coverage during their nine-state journey as they confronted Members of Congress who voted for the Ryan plan. As governors play political games with the well-being of vulnerable families, faith leaders need to mount this kind of pressure again and again in state after state.
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In an interview with the National Catholic Register about last week’s Supreme Court decision, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia appeared to break with the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ official stance of not supporting repeal of the Affordable Care Act:
NCR: What does the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of President Obama’s health-care reform legislation now mean in the struggle to defend religious freedom?
CHAPUT: I think it’s a disappointment on the part of many of us in the Church because we had hoped the decision would make our lawsuits unnecessary.
The USCCB, of course, released a statement yesterday explaining that while they take issue with certain parts of the law, they have “not joined in efforts to repeal the law in its entirety, and [they] do not do so today.”
Expounding on his views, Chaput further demonstrated how far he is from the position of his conference:
NCR: The U.S. bishops have spoken in favor of a universal right to health care.
CHAPUT: The bishops really do believe it. Health is a basic human right; we have a right to be healthy. There’s no declaration on the part of the Church that that has to be accomplished through government intervention.
There are many ways of approaching health care, and I think it’s very important for Catholics to understand the fact that the Church, seeing health care as a basic human right, does not mean [to say] there’s a particular method of obtaining that [right that’s] better than another.
Chaput’s assertion here isn’t a remotely convincing argument against the law. Just because Church teaching doesn’t require a governmental role in healthcare doesn’t mean it rejects it. The Bishops concerns about the Affordable Care Act were about particular policies, they had no objections to the general framework of the bill.
Even for those who are opposed to the law on principle, advocating for repeal is incredibly irresponsible. A sudden reversal would put millions of people at risk of health crises and financial ruin.
Chaput’s argument sounds more like that of a Tea Party politician than a Catholic prelate. As his fellow bishops attempt to tamp down appearances of partisanship, Chaput’s comments don’t help the situation.
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In response to today’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act, Faith in Public Life executive director Rev. Jennifer Butler issued the following statement:
The Supreme Court did the right thing for American families by upholding the Affordable Care Act. Faith leaders worked tirelessly to pass this legislation because ensuring that all Americans have quality, affordable healthcare is a moral responsibility. The religious right needs to halt their misguided campaign to repeal this law. Human life is too sacred to be jeopardized by partisan crusades.
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