March 9, 2012


Defeat of the Blunt Amendment

The U.S. Catholic bishops usually bend over backward to stay out of partisan politics, but sometimes they are pulled in anyway. That is definitely what has happened this year.

It is disappointing, but not surprising, that Democrats in the Senate killed the Blunt Amendment that would have allowed a religious-conscience exemption for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) mandate about abortifacients, sterilization and contraceptives in health care plans. They framed it as a birth control issue and a women's rights issue rather than a religious freedom issue.

It became a partisan issue because all but one Republican senator voted for the amendment, and all but three Democrats voted against it.

Who would have thought that contraception would become one of the issues in the campaign? That happened when President Barack Obama decided that all employers, including Catholic institutions, must include free sterilizations and contraceptives, including abortifacients, in their health care plans.

We know that it was the president's decision because he called New York's Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to tell him about the decision before HHS officials announced it.

Naturally, the bishops had to object to being forced to pay for something that the Church teaches is immoral. The president could have avoided the controversy that ensued if he had exempted those who objected to paying for those services for reasons of conscience. But Obama and his supporters quickly escalated it into a women's rights issue.

The bishops made it quite clear that this is a freedom-of-religion issue and a defense-of-conscience-rights issue.

Yet, only three Democratic senators voted in favor of the Blunt Amendment. Wouldn't you think that more Democratic senators would be in favor of conscience rights? How can they think that it's OK to force you to do something that is against your conscience?

The message that comes across in the media, though, is that the Catholic bishops are trying to take contraceptives away from women and force women to follow the teachings of the Church.

No, they just don't want to be forced to pay for something that they consider immoral.

They are not asking that free contraceptives be eliminated from all health care programs, only those that the Catholic Church, and other employers with moral or religious objections, are paying for.

Then there is the dust-up over the testimony of Sandra Fluke at a meeting on this issue called by Democrats in Congress. It is nothing short of amazing to us that a Georgetown University law student, or any other young woman, would say that it is not her responsibility to pay for her contraceptives.

Fluke shouldn't expect a Catholic university like Georgetown to pay for her contraceptives.

The defeat of the Blunt Amendment will not be the end of this controversy.

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, has promised to continue to fight for conscience rights for all people.

Unfortunately, the controversy over the HHS mandate isn't the only problem the Catholic Church has had with the Obama administration.

Other disagreements have concerned funding for abortion providers both overseas and in the United States, funding for embryonic stem-cell research, placing children for adoption with same-sex parents, and taking grant money from the bishops' Office of Migration and Refugee Services because it wouldn't make referrals for abortions.

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago recently warned that imposition of the HHS mandate would force the Catholic Church to close its hospitals, clinics, schools and all other organizations that would otherwise have to comply.

"Two Lents from now," he warned, "unless something changes, the page [listing Catholic organizations] will be blank."

—John F. Fink

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