President Garvy Testifies In Birth Control Hearing
The Subcommittee on Health within the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing this week regarding the Affordable Care Act entitled “Do New Health Law Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to Care?” The act requires health insurance providers to offer birth control and Plan B pills free of charge to subscribers, which goes against the religious morals upon which Catholic University was founded.
Throughout the month long period allotted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to comment on the act, Catholic University president John H. Garvey, as well as leaders of other Catholic institutions, published official comments and sent petitions urging HHS to reassess the “religious employers” exemption to include Catholic universities, hospitals and organizations.
“While the rule does include a religious exemption, many entities feel that it is inadequate and violates their conscience rights by forcing them to provide coverage for services for which they have a moral or ethical objection,” said the Honorable Joseph R. Pitts, Chairman of the Health Subcommittee, in the opening statement at the hearing.
Although President Garvey could not attend the hearing, he submitted a testimony to the subcommittee, addressing Catholic University’s involvement in the issue.
“Federal regulations should not place The Catholic University of America – or any university – in the position of having to choose between the exercise of its religious principles and compliance with an overreaching government policy. The new HHS woman’s health mandate puts us in exactly that position.”
William J. Cox, President and CEO of the Alliance of Catholic Health Care, David Stevens, CEO of the Christian Medical Association, and Jane G. Belford, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, presented their testimonies to the committee at the hearing. They agreed that the “religious employers” clause should be broadened to include more Catholic institutions in order to avoid forcing them to act against Catholic teachings.
“The contraception mandate can potentially cause a decrease in the provision of health insurance for employees of pro-life healthcare employees who want to avoid conflicts of conscience regarding the subsidy and implied endorsement of controversial contraceptives,” Stevens said. It “creates a climate of coercion that can prompt pro-life healthcare professionals to limit the scope of their medical practice…”
Jon O’Brian, President of Catholics for Choice, had a different view to express to the committee.
“The restrictions go far beyond their intent of protecting conscience rights for all by eliminating access to essential healthcare for many, if not most patients, especially in the area of reproductive healthcare services. This will make it harder for many working Americans to get the healthcare they need at a cost they can afford,” O’Brian said.
“Using contraception is the most effective way to prevent unintended pregnancy – and ultimately to reduce the need for abortion. Finally, all women will gain access to insurance coverage of family-planning services regardless of income,” agreed Mark Hathaway, Director of Obstetrics and Gynecology Outreach Services for Women’s and Infants’ Services at Washington Hospital Center.
In response to this moral issue, Representatives Jeff Fortenberry and Dan Boren instituted the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011. This act, which has 84 cosponsors, will attempt to address the issue of conscience rights, or lack thereof, in the Affordable Care act.
“It is our mission, as a Catholic university, to see that our students grow in grace as well as wisdom during the time they study here,” Garvey said in his testimony. “This law will force us to help our students do things that we teach them, in our classes and in our sacraments, are sinful… sometimes gravely so.”