ACT NOW: Conscience rights violated by sweeping HHS contraceptive mandate

September 29, 2011

On Sept. 7, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo issued a letter (see below)to members of Congress.


In implementing the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the new health care reform law), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued a rule requiring almost all private health plans to cover contraception and sterilization as "preventive services" for women. The mandate even forces individuals and groups with religious or moral objections to purchase and provide such coverage if they are to receive or provide health coverage at all. This poses an unprecedented threat to individual and institutional religious freedom.

The rule includes a religious exemption so extremely narrow that it protects almost no one. It covers only a "religious employer" that has the "inculcation of religious values" as its purpose, primarily employs and serves persons who share its religious tenets, and is a church organization under two narrow provisions of the tax code. A great many religious organizations- including Catholic colleges and universities, as well as hospitals and charitable institutions that serve the public - will be ineligible. Individuals and religiously affiliated health insurers will not qualify for the exemption.

The new rule would force insurance plans to cover "all Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity." Never before has the federal government required private health plans to include such coverage. The FDA-approved "emergency contraception" (EC) drugs that are covered by this mandate can work by interfering with implantation of a newly conceived human being. Also, the drug the FDA most recently approved for EC, "Ella," a close analogue to the abortion drug RU-486, has been shown in animal tests to cause abortion. Thus, the mandate includes drugs that may cause an abortion both before and after implantation.

What can be done? Send an e-mail message to HHS by visiting Once you send your comments to HHS, you will be automatically invited to send a message to your elected representatives in Congress, urging them to support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179/S. 1467) to ensure that such federal mandates do not violate Americans' moral and religious convictions.

MESSAGE TO HHS: "Pregnancy is not a disease, and drugs and surgeries to prevent it are not basic health care that the government should require all Americans to purchase. Please remove sterilization and prescription contraceptives from the list of ‘preventive services' the federal government is mandating in private health plans. It is especially important to exclude any drug that may cause an early abortion, and to fully respect religious freedom as other federal laws do. The narrow religious exemption in HHS's new rule protects almost no one. I urge you to allow all organizations and individuals to offer, sponsor and obtain health coverage that does not violate their moral and religious convictions."

WHEN: Please send your comments to HHS by the September 30 deadline.

Dear Member of Congress:

While I have written previously to encourage your support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179, S. 1467), recent events make this request more urgent.

In an interim final rule published August 3, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has established a list of "preventive services for women" to be required in almost all private health plans nationwide, under the authority of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Tragically, HHS missed its opportunity to focus on prevention of diseases and disabling conditions that truly pose serious risks to women's lives. Instead it decided to include mandatory coverage for: surgical sterilization; all prescription contraceptives approved by the FDA, including drugs like Ella (ulipristal) that can cause abortions in the early weeks of pregnancy; and "education and counseling" to promote these to "all women of reproductive capacity."

The new HHS mandate underscores a major deficiency in PPACA – it lacks a conscience clause to prevent the Act itself from being used to suppress the rights and freedoms of those who may have moral or religious objections to specific procedures. This omission is especially glaring in light of the fact that the Act does accommodate the religious beliefs of those who object to participation in government-run benefits programs altogether, those who wish to address illness solely by prayer, and those on Indian reservations who are committed to traditional tribal practices of healing.

As you may know, the nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, actively campaigned for the mandate now issued by HHS, and supports mandated coverage of chemical as well as surgical abortion. Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups hope that once there is a national mandate for "prevention" of pregnancy as if it were a disease inimical to women's well-being, this will build their case for promoting abortion as the "cure."

Last fall the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops presented a detailed case against a nationwide contraceptive mandate on several grounds. For example, there are solid reasons to doubt claims that expanded contraceptive programs reduce abortions, or that prescription contraceptives enhance health for women ( In this letter I wish to focus on the threat posed by such a mandate to rights of conscience and religious freedom, as Congress has protected these rights in the past and needs to do so again.
This spring, to address the serious flaw in PPACA regarding lack of conscience rights, Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Dan Boren (D-OK) introduced the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179). This legislation would change no current state or federal mandate for health coverage, but simply prevent any new mandates under PPACA – such as HHS's new set of "preventive services for women" -- from being used to disregard the freedom of conscience that Americans now enjoy. This would seem to be an absolutely essential element of any promise that if Americans like the health plan they have now, they may retain it. I applaud the August 2 introduction of a Senate version of this legislation (S. 1467) by Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and I urge members of both parties to add their names as co-sponsors to these urgently needed bills.

Respect for rights of conscience in health care has been a matter of strong bipartisan consensus for almost four decades. Under the Church amendment of 1973, those taking part in a variety of federal health programs may not be discriminated against because they have moral or religious objections to abortion or sterilization, and in some circumstances to any other health service. The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program exempts religiously affiliated health plans from any contraceptive mandate, and protects the conscience rights of health professionals in secular plans. The major federal legislation for combating AIDS in developing nations ensures the full participation of organizations that have a moral or religious objection to particular methods of AIDS prevention. This consensus is reflected in a variety of other federal laws as well (

HHS's new mandate for contraception/sterilization coverage, by contrast, includes an incredibly narrow exemption for "religious employers" that p