As shepherd of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, I am distressed to learn that the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans is being upheld. This mandate gravely compromises religious liberty.
The contraceptive/sterilization mandate imposed on health plans by HHS violates religious freedom, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment and several federal laws. Forcing all employers to buy coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that induce abortion, is a radical incursion into religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
HHS’s mandate includes an incredibly narrow exemption for “religious employers” that protects almost no one. Those who sponsor, purchase and issue health plans should not be forced to violate their deeply held moral and religious convictions in order to take part in the health care system or provide for the needs of their families, their employees or those most in need.
Today’s announcement that the mandate and its very narrow exemption will not change is deeply disappointing to me. As Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their health care is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom.”
I join my brother bishops, fellow Catholics and all people of goodwill who prize religious liberty as a cornerstone of our common life in expressing strong opposition to the HHS mandate.