The National Catholic Review

An open letter from Catholic University president John Garvey:

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services to draw up new lists of “preventive services for women” that must be included in private health plans. Last week the Institute of Medicine (a nonprofit organization; it’s the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences) issued a set of recommendations to HHS about what such preventive services might comprise. Though the Institute might have addressed many important issues, it focused mainly on reproduction and contraception. It suggested that HHS mandate coverage of surgical sterilization, all FDA-approved prescription contraceptives (including drugs like Ella that are targeted at women who may already have conceived), and “education and counseling” to promote these services. HHS will decide soon (perhaps as early as August 1) whether to adopt these recommendations.

Americans differ over whether the services recommended by the Institute of Medicine are bad things. But the issue before HHS is not whether to allow sterilization, contraception, and abortion. It is whether to order insurance companies to cover these services, and employers and employees to pay for them, even if they view them as morally wrong. It is in just this situation that the respect for religious freedom comes into play. Most Americans view service in the armed forces, especially in times of trouble, as a good thing. Most are willing to sanction even the taking of enemy lives, if it is necessary to protect our country and those we love. Quakers do not, and from the beginning of our history we have treated their “conscientious scruples...with great delicacy and tenderness.”

It is unfortunate that the new health care law enacted in 2010 does not include a conscience clause addressing this issue. But it is natural and appropriate that HHS should consider our historical commitment to religious liberty in deciding what kinds of services to mandate.

Read the rest of the letter here.

Tim Reidy