In the US, it’s an election year, and the atmosphere is toxic. The incumbent president Barak Obama is up for re-election in November. The Republican primaries have taken a lot of airtime.
One of the contested policy issues is Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). Many of the US Catholic Bishops have been critical of this law on the ground that it might contribute to even more abortions in the US.
The Catholic religious orders which conduct health facilities are broadly supportive of the law because it would extend basic healthcare to millions of Americans otherwise deprived a basic right. The US Supreme Court is yet to determine the constitutionality of the law.
On 15 February 2012, the US Administration published draft regulations as a follow-up to the ACA. The legislative regime mandates three actions: each person must take out insurance; each employer must provide health cover; and every health plan must include preventive health measures including access to contraception, sterilisation and abortifacients.
Preventive health measures are mandated so as to reduce long term the overall costs of health care. Religious employers who have religious objections to such preventive health measures would be exempt.
On 14 March, the Administrative Committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops declared the exemption for religious employers was too restrictive in part because it would apply only to employers who hired and served those primarily of their own faith. But what about Church institutions responding to the gospel imperative to provide health, education or welfare to persons of all faiths and none, employing persons of all faiths and none?
The bishops said, ‘We will continue to accept any invitation to dialogue with the Executive Branch to protect the religious freedom that is rightly ours.’
Feeling the heat from the bishops, the Obama Administration a week later issued ‘a request for comments in advance of proposed rulemaking on the potential means of accommodating such organisations while ensuring contraceptive coverage for plan participants and beneficiaries covered under their plans (or, in the case of student health insurance plans, student enrollees and their dependents) without cost sharing’. Continue reading
News category: Features.