The federal government should avoid making Catholic hospitals choose between offering health coverage and violating their principles.
William Cox, president of the Alliance of Catholic Health Care, Sacramento, Calif., made that argument today during a hearing on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (PPACA) mandates organized by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Witnesses talked about federal mandates that are set to require most employers other than churches, associations of churches and religious orders to include coverage for contraceptives and sterilization procedures in their basic preventive services packages starting in August 2012.
Witnesses also talked about federal rules that now let doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals refrain from providing care – such as abortions, and access to drugs that lead to abortions – that they feel violate their principles.
Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said the PPACA “refusal clause” – the clause that lets providers refuse to provide services that they feel conflict with the dictates of their conscience – threatens access to basic family planning services as well as to abortion
“Except in emergency situations, it is reasonable and indeed prudent to allow those who are opposed to abortion to opt out of providing the service,” O’Brien said in written testimony posted on the committee website. “It is in the best interests of all that only medical professionals committed to providing such services do so.” Women need support and compassionate care when they access
But women should be able to get referrals for the care they need, and “it is incredible to suggest that a hospital or an insurance plan has a conscience,” O’Brien said. “Granting institutions, or entities like these, legal protections for the rights of conscience that properly belongs to individuals is an affront to our ideals of conscience and religious freedom.”
Some institutions are trying to use the refusal clause to keep Catholic hospitals from offering condoms through HIV outreach programs and to opt out of providing emergency contraception to victims of sexual violence, O’Brien said.