(CNSNews.com) – As many Americans start to enroll in the Obamacare health insurance exchanges on Oct. 1, the position of Bishop Paul S. Loverde, head of the Catholic diocese of Arlington, Va., on the law’s mandate that nearly all health insurance plans include contraception, sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs without co-pays has not changed and is clear: “We cannot--we will not--comply with this unjust law.”
Bishop Loverde made that statement in a joint letter with Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of the Richmond Diocese to the Catholics of Virginia--some 700,000 of them--on Jan. 30, 2012. Bishop Loverde’s office confirmed this week that, given the mandate has not been changed or rescinded, the bishops’ position has not changed.
Back in March 2012, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) described the Obamacare rule as an “unjust and illegal mandate” that violates religious freedom under the First Amendment, and noted that it affects employers and nearly all individuals -- a “violation of personal civil rights.”
On the mandate, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “almost all employers, including Catholic employers, will be forced to offer their employees’ health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception,” explained Bp. Loverde in the letter. “Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those ‘services’ in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as a part of their policies.”
“In so ruling, the administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty,” said the bishop. “And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply [from 2012].”
“We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law,” said Bp. Loverde.
“People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God-given rights.”
The HHS mandate applies to nearly all individuals and employers in the United States, with a few exceptions for strictly religious persons or entities, such as a priest or pastor or a religious order. Individuals who object -- for moral, religious, or other reasons -- to paying for health insurance that provides contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs cannot opt-out. They must buy health insurance under the Obamacare law or pay a penalty to the IRS.
The law goes into fuller effect on Jan. 1, 2014. As mandated, people who do not get insurance through their employer or from the government (Medicaid, Medicare) are required to apply for coverage through the Obamacare health insurance exchanges starting on Oct. 1 of this year.
Back on March 20, 2013, the general counsel’s office at the USCCB submitted comments to the Department of Health and Human Services about the regulation. In the 23-page document, the lawyers for the USCCB explain that “the mandate is unchanged,” and that, “For reasons discussed more fully in our earlier comments, we believe the mandate should be rescinded.” (Read here: USCCB Comments to HHS.pdf)
In their conclusion, the USCCB general counsel’s office said, “In short, the [Obama] Administration continues to propose: (a) an unjust and unlawful mandate; [and] (b) no exemption or ‘accommodation’ at all for most stakeholders in the health insurance process, such as individual employees and for-profit employers ….”
In a videotaped statement posted on July 29, 2013, Bishop Loverde commented further on the HHS mandate, stating, “As Catholics, and with many others, we are seeking to protect religious liberty, which continues to be threatened by the current administration. The HHS mandate, unless repealed, will force employers, including Catholic organizations, and persons of conscience [individuals] to provide insurance that will include contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs. All of these procedures and drugs violate the dignity of the marital act, and in the case of the abortifacient drugs, attack life itself.”
He further said, “We must be free as Catholics, to not only worship God in our churches but also to practice and live the faith in the public square in the daily living of life. Therefore, we have the right to oppose any and all governmental coercive mandates that encroach upon religious liberty, and the responsibility to make clear that such policies violate our First Amendment freedom.”
“Yes, religious liberty is a serious issue. We must be involved in its defense,” said Bishop Loverde.
There are about 403,000 Catholics in the diocese of Arlington, which covers northern Virginia, near the nation’s capital, with 67 parishes. For the Richmond diocese, which covers central and southern Virginia, there are about 230,000 Catholics and 151 parishes (churches).There are 78 million Catholics in the United States. In February 2012, all 181 Catholic bishops in the United States publicly denounced the Obamacare mandate as a violation of religious liberty under the First Amendment.