As I lead a church and Christian daycare with multiple employees, I am looking carefully at the health benefits we should provide, including the impact of Obamacare. Most people are now willing to admit that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is not a perfect law. Maybe any law with well over 11 million words is bound to have some problems. But while most of the attention has understandably gone to the millions of Americans who are losing their health coverage or their doctors, the problem of the ACA’s assault on religious liberty still looms large.
From the very beginning, Catholic leaders raised concerns about the regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), charged with implementing the healthcare law. These require employers to pay for contraceptive services, including drugs which can potentially induce abortion. There is currently debate over whether both the birth control pill and the so-called “morning-after pill” should be classified as abortifacients. Some claim they merely prevent ovulation and/or fertilization, while others note that they also make the endometrial lining of the uterus hostile to a fertilized ovum.
Regardless, all contraceptive drugs are a violation of Catholic conscience. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, written in 1968, clarified the Catholic view that children are a blessing and should be welcomed by married couples. Catholic leaders are not asking the federal government to ban contraception; they are simply asking to be exempt from paying for it or being complicit in its distribution.
This concern was a key issue during the 2012 vice presidential debate between Congressman Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden, both of whom are Catholic. Biden claimed boldly, “[No Catholic institution] has to either refer for contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide, that is a fact.”
There seemed to be very little room for misinterpretation in Vice President Biden’s statement. So were those Catholic leaders simply misinformed? Or did they have valid concerns that the administration was going to force Catholic organizations to pay for drugs that violate their religious teachings? Everyone waited for the law to take effect to find out.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.