In response to an order, by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, that all healthcare insurance plans in the United States must cover sterilizations, contraceptives, and FDA-approved abortion-inducing drugs, without fees or copays, the head of the Roman Catholic diocese of Pittsburgh has said
, "The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, 'To Hell with you!'"
Bishop David A. Zubik said, "Let's be blunt. This whole process of mandating these guidelines undermines the democratic process itself."
Though the regulation announced
by Secretary Sebelius includes an exemption for "religious employers," those employers wishing to qualify for this exemption must primarily
: serve members of its own faith, employ members of its own faith, and focus on the teaching of the doctrines of that faith. As a result of this rule, Catholic hospitals, universities, and charitable organizations would not qualify for the exemption.
In addition, there is no exemption for individual citizens or private businesses. Thus, any individual who is a pro-life small business owner and employer is not exempt from the law. He or she must provide health insurance that offers full coverage for sterilization, contraception, and abortion-inducing drugs.
Secretary Sebelius stated that religiously-affiliated non-profit organizations would be given until August 1, 2013 to "adapt" to the regulation, but then would be required to comply with it. She asserted:
Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, it is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women. This rule will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost sharing.
Bishop Zubik responded
This is government by fiat that attacks the rights of everyone--not only Catholics; not only people of all religion. At no other time in memory or history has there been such a governmental intrusion on freedom not only with regard to religion, but even across-the-board with all citizens...On January 20, 2012, the Obama administration answered you and me. The response was very simple: ‘To Hell with You.’”
Cardinal-designate and Archbishop of New York, Most Rev. Timothy Dolan, who also heads the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
(USCCB) said, in a Wall Street Journal editorial
By its decision, the Obama administration has failed to show the same respect for the consciences of Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease...This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.
Even staunch liberal Catholic supporters of President Obama, like Michael Sean Winters, offered,
in National Catholic Reporter
, a scathing and exhaustive unleashing of criticism at the president. "President Barack Obama lost my vote yesterday when he declined to expand the exceedingly narrow conscience exemptions proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services," Mr. Winters said. "The issue of conscience protections is so foundational, I do not see how I ever could, in good conscience, vote for this man again."
Catholics across the country heard a variation of a letter
this past weekend, prepared by their bishops, in which the HHS ruling was referred to as a "severe assault on religious liberty." The letter continues, "We cannot- we will not- comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens."