CHA issues comment on conscience protection

by Michael Sean Winters

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The Catholic Health Association (CHA) has issued its comment on the proposed rule regarding mandated care under the Affordable Care Act, specifically on the issue of conscience protections. CHA brings to this discussion something that other Catholic organizations like the USCCB can’t bring: CHA supported the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and in the estimation of most observers, it was the good sisters who pulled that law across the finish line. The Obama administration ignores CHA at its peril, not least because picking a fight over conscience protections now would only give more ammunition to those who wish to defeat the ACA in its entirety.

Several aspects of the CHA comment stand out. First, they explain that their ministry is explicitly religious: “Catholic health care providers are participants in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. Our mission and our ethical standards in health care are rooted in and inseparable from the Catholic Church's teachings about the dignity of the human person and the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death. These values form the basis for our steadfast commitment to the compelling moral implications of our heath care ministry, whether it be caring with compassion for all persons, throughout all stages of life; insisting on the right of all to accessible, affordable health care; or defending and preserving the conscience rights of health care providers, including but not limited to Catholic facilities. Our religious and moral convictions are the source of both the work we do and the limits on what we will do.” It is impossible to divorce their work from their faith, which is the crux of their claim to First Amendment protection against performing procedures or supplying drugs that they find morally objectionable.

Second, CHS points out that the conscience protections they seek are nothing more than the conscience protections they have long been afforded. They quote from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Ursuline sisters of New Orleans, who had inquired about their ability to carry on their ministry when Louisiana became a part of the United States in 1803. Jefferson wrote: “… that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to it's [sic] own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority, whatever diversity of shade may appear in the religious opinions of our fellow citizens, the charitable objects of your institution cannot be indifferent to any; and it's [sic] furtherance of the wholesome purposes of society…cannot fail to ensure it the patronage of the government it is under. be [sic] assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it.” Of course, Jefferson, unlike so many liberals today, had read his Locke and he knew something about the inviolability of conscience. The issue before the Department of Health & Human Services is not contraception, it is conscience.

Thirdly, the document shows that whatever bad feelings remained after the fight over the ACA, the USCCB and CHA are on the same page on this issue. The comment from CHA states: “As the representative of Catholic hospitals and health care providers which will be impacted by the contraceptive mandate in their role as employers, CHA focuses its comments on the adequacy of the ?religious employer exemption. Accordingly, we will not address here the issues of whether the mandate itself is appropriate and whether the exemption should apply to other entities, such as insurers, or to individuals. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has persuasively addressed these points in its comments.” Whether you agree with CHA that the USCCB’s arguments are persuasive or not is beside the point. What is noteworthy is that the two are working hand-in-glove, and that redounds to the credit of both organizations.

The full text of the comment is here. The comment period closes on September 30.

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