As Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and other Catholic officials speak out publicly against a new federal rule involving free birth control, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defends the switch and says the criticism is misguided.
Last month the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — known informally as “ObamaCare” — would require nearly universal coverage of contraception.
The rule, which takes effect in 2013, reclassifies birth control as a preventative measure, which means most employers will be required to cover contraception in their health insurance plans with no cost-sharing like co-pays or deductibles.
Among the institutions affected by the change are insurance plans offered to employees of Catholic hospitals and schools, but only those where the majority of employees are non-Catholic.
Catholic teachings prohibit the use of artificial birth control such as birth control pills, condoms and intrauterine devices.
Shortly after the announcement, Schnurr wrote a letter that was read during Mass at area churches Jan. 28-29.
The archbishop wrote, “In so ruling, the (Obama) administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so).
The letter added, “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of goodwill in this important effort to regain our religious freedom.”
Schnurr urged Catholics to write members of Congress to support legislation that would overturn the decision. Meanwhile, some churches are hosting forums about the rule change, like St. Cecilia Parish in Oakley on Feb. 15.
Some Catholic politicians, including GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich and Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, echo Schnurr’s sentiment.
“This is a tremendous infringement of religious liberty,” Gingrich said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Every time you turn around the secular government is shrinking the rights of religious institutions in America.”
During the show, Gingrich said host David Gregory took the "ACLU’s" position after Gregory attempted to explain religious exemptions for contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
ACLU leaders said Gingrich and others are distorting what the rule requires.
“To be clear, the rule does not require churches or other houses of worship that hire people of the faith to carry out religious practices to purchase birth control coverage for their employees,” said Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s executive director. “It does require organizations like hospitals and universities that operate in the public sphere to play by public rules. We should all be alarmed that Mr. Gingrich and other extremists are asking that religious groups should get a license to discriminate and impose their beliefs on others who may not share them.”
Romero added, “The Constitution's rights to privacy and equal treatment under the law, consistently held up by the Supreme Court, guarantee that all women have access to basic and essential medical services. Religious freedom gives everyone the right to make personal decisions, including whether to use birth control, based on our own beliefs. The contraceptive rule ensures that millions of women will be able to follow their own conscience when it comes to their health and their families.”
Two other groups — one consisting of Catholic theologians, the other consisting of Catholic politicians — have submitted open letters to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, urging her to resist pressure from Catholic bishops and cover all women under the proposed regulations regarding preventive health services, including contraception.
The letter from the theologians states, in part, “among American Catholics the sensus fidelium — the graced and experience-fed wisdom of the faithful that has always been one of the sources of truth in the Catholic tradition — is clear on the matter of contraception, the only area that is covered by the exemptions. The overwhelming majority of Catholics favor and use contraception. The majority of Catholic moral theologians hold that artificial contraception is a moral option and, in some instances, even a moral mandate.”