Just after posting this week's e-news (Feb 8), in which I wondered in an earlier blog post whether the Administration's expanded "opt out" provision for the Affordable Care Act's mandated contraceptives coverage would win any adherents among religious opponents, notably Catholic bishops, I saw this news item.
In a February 7 statement, Catholic bishops rejected the Administration's latest proposal, saying that it "shows some movement by the Administration but falls short of addressing U.S. bishops' concerns."
The bishops acknowledged that the Administration had made progress in broadening the definition of religious institutions, but failed to move on other key concerns, including rules that bishops say continue to require a range of church-affiliated employers and employers with conscience concerns to particpate in negotiating, providing, or funding coverage for contraception or abortion services for employees and their families. This coverage is one of many required in the "essential health benefits" specified for all health plans by the ACA.
Amid the rejection, however, the bishops, represented by Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed continued hope in finding a solution. Bishop Dolan said that "we will affirm any genuine progress that is made, and we will redouble our efforts to overcome obstacles or setbacks," He added that the bishops "welcome and will take seriously the Administration's invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found."
The goal, they said, is to "best assure that healthcare for every woman, man and child is achieved without harm to our first, most cherished freedom." This, they say, is "the protection of the dignity of all human life and the innate rights that flow from it," including the right to life, the rights of all to be cared for, the right of the Church to define itself and its ministries, and freedom of conscience.
My object here is not to hold a religious training, or to advocate a set of religious beliefs. Instead, I've been trying to resolve--and share with you--my own curiosity about why the Catholic Church, notably the bishops, have so strongly argued against the ACA on "religious freedom" grounds when it represents the first, and so far only, attempt by the US to extend some minimum of health care to all citizens. It has long been my fear that the moral voice of the Church and this issue of "religious freedom" could be used by other ACA opponents--including many Christians and Catholics--to camouflage other and less noble motives for killing off the healthcare law.
And, I wonder: Is the current argument over religious freedom worth the lives sure to be affected or lost due to conflicts and delays over the law's implementation? Isn't there something to be said for the idea that the provision of healthcare for all is a life-saving and life-affirming action too--especially for those who face discrimination or lack of availability in obtaining services? Is it possible to balance the life-promoting benefits of a law like this against the reality that someone has to pay for it, or that with or without it, people remain free to make their own moral decisions?
I don't claim to know the answers. But I do feel the questions are fair to ask.