Bishops’ Conscience Christmas: Full-Page Ads in W. Post, N.Y. Times

Sixty heads of hospitals are signatories on the bishops' new ad.

In the days before Christmas, the U.S. bishops  sponsored a full page ad in both The New York Times and The Washington Post.

“The ads have made our point of view loud and clear,” Deirdre McQuade of the bishops pro-life office told me. “Is it possible that our open letter has at the very least delayed their decision or caused them to reconsider? I hope so.”

The ads were headlined “Support access to health care? Protect Conscience rights” Subhead: “Catholic Organizations Respond to HHS ‘Preventive Services’ Mandate.”

Their message: Obama’s health care implementation plans “would harm both religious freedom and access to health care.”

The ad objects to new health insurance rules that would require all employers in the United States to cover sterilization and contraception — even Catholic organizations. This would  force Catholics to violate their consciences.

The proposed HHS rules exempt religious employers from the requirement but then define “religious employers” so strictly that, as McQuade put it, “Even Jesus Christ and his disciples wouldn’t qualify.”

McQuade said that the bishops’ position is that the exemption should be much broader. Or better yet, no employer should be forced to cover sterilization and contraception: After all, most Catholics work for non-Catholic organizations.

The ad, which also ran in Politico and Roll Call, features signatures by hundreds of Catholic leaders. Pro-life stalwarts like Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, and C-Fam’s Austin Ruse are there … as well as President Stephen Minnis at my own Benedictine College.

But it isn’t just “new evangelization” Catholic colleges like us that support it. Michael Galligan-Stierle, President of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, representing a broad group of schools, is a signatory.

Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins was famously present when President Obama promised a real conscience clause to Catholics at Notre Dame. He has pressed his own case for conscience clause language; McQuade points out that “Father Jenkins is a signatory to this robust statement in defense of conscience rights in solidarity with the bishops.”

Other notable signatories: Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services and Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. These no doubt objected to rules exempting only Catholic organizations that serve only Catholics.

“It’s not like we ask people to show their Catholic membership card before we say ‘You can have medical care’ or aid,” McQuade said. “We serve those who think and pray with us and those who don’t.”

Significantly, 60 heads of hospitals are signatories on the ad, an important showing from the Catholic medical community. When combined with the heads of Catholic professional medical associations (including nursing) and other significant medical professionals, the number totals 85 health care professionals.

Important health care community signatories include:

  • William J. Cox, President/CEO of Alliance of Catholic Health Care;
  • Jan R. Hemstad, MD, President of the Catholic Medical Association;
  • Cheryl A. Hettman, PhD, RN, President National Association of Catholic Nurses;
  • Sr. Jane Marie Klein, OSF, Chairperson of the Board, Franciscan Alliance, Inc.
  • Mary Starmann-Harrison, President/CEO, Hospital Sister Health System

“We resist being forced to subsidize other people’s sterilization and contraception with no way out,” McQuade said. “There’s no out here. There is no wiggle room. There is not even the option to self-insure, because those plans would also be required to cover sterilization and contraception.”

To see the full page ad, click here.

To learn how to do your part for conscience rights, visit www.usccb.org/conscience

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Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.

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