A timeline of the HHS mandate

February 28, 2012

n Feb. 10, the Catholic bishops of the United States called for a renewed effort to change the Department of Health and Human Services' mandate requiring religious employers to provide health care coverage of services that oppose religious teachings. 
"Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience," said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "This shouldn't happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights."

The HHS mandate requires nearly all private health plans to include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptive drugs and devices — services which violate the teachings of the Catholic Church. The only religious institutions that could qualify for an exemption are those that both employ and serve people primarily of their own faith traditions. The exemption does not cover Catholic hospitals, universities and service agencies that help millions of people of all faiths or no faith every year. 

A change to the mandate, announced by the White House on Feb. 10, would allow Catholic health care, social service and higher educational ministries to be exempt, so long as their insurers offered the services directly to the employees. As a result, the objecting religious employers are still providing for the objectionable services, since the insurer is being compensated through premiums paid by the employer.
More than 400 Catholic leaders have called on Congress and the Administration to protect conscience rights in health care.

The Herald has provided a timeline of events and announcements tracking the HHS mandate and responses from Daniel Cardinal DiNardo and the U.S. bishops:

July 19, 2011
Cardinal DiNardo, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the USCCB, strongly opposes the recommendation of the Institute of Medicine that the HHS mandate coverage of surgical sterilization and all FDA-approved birth control in private health insurance plans nationwide.

Aug. 1, 2011
The USCCB sharply criticizes a new HHS "preventive services" mandate requiring private health plans to cover female surgical sterilization and all drugs and devices approved by the FDA as contraceptives, including drugs which can attack a developing unborn child before and after implantation in the mother's womb.

Aug. 31, 2011
The general counsel of the USCCB calls on the HHS to rescind its mandate forcing private insurance plans to cover contraception — including abortifacients — and sterilization, calling the mandate "unprecedented in federal law and more radical than any state contraceptive mandate." The comments also criticize the narrow "religious employer" exception to the mandate, explaining that it provides "no protection at all for individuals or insurers with a moral or religious objection to contraceptives or sterilization," instead covering only "a very small subset of religious employers."

Sept. 7, 2011
In a letter to Congress, Cardinal DiNardo says Congress should support a bill (H.R. 1179, S. 1467) that will close gaps in protection of conscience rights in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, especially in light of the threat to conscience rights posed by a new mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services .

"I urge you to support and co-sponsor the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, to help preserve respect in federal law for the freedom to follow the dictates of one's conscience," Cardinal DiNardo writes.

OCT. 12, 2011
Leaders of 20 national Catholic organizations sign a joint statement to protest the "preventive services" mandate issued by HHS. They also called for legislative reform of health care law to protect conscience rights.

OCT. 14, 2011
The U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities welcomes passage in the House of the ‘Protect Life Act' (H.R. 358). Sponsored by Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) and 144 co-sponsors, the Protect Life Act would apply longstanding federal policies on abortion funding, and conscience rights on abortion, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. Late on October 13, the House passed H.R. 358 by a bipartisan vote of 251 to 172.

NOV. 1, 2011
In a letter to subcommittee chairman Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pennsylvania), Cardinal DiNardo urges support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179/S. 1467) and other measures to address flaws in health care reform.
The letter urged Congress to strengthen conscience protections for health care providers and ensure that health care reform measures do not impede religious liberty.

JAN. 19, 2012
The U.S. bishops express praise for the latest statement of Pope Benedict XVI on the need to protect religious liberty, which he delivered in an address Jan. 19 to U.S. bishops gathered in Rome for their ad limina visits.

JAN. 20, 2012
The Catholic bishops of the United States call "literally unconscionable" a decision by the Obama Administration to require that sterilization, abortifacients and contraception be included in virtually all health plans. Cardinal DiNardo, in a statement, says the mandate "gravely compromises religious liberty." 

JAN. 23, 2012
Cardinal DiNardo and Cardinal Dolan call on thousands of Catholics gathered for the National Prayer Vigil for Life to speak out for the protection of conscience rights and religious liberty.

"Advocacy on behalf of human life is an essential dimension of the pro-life cause and the pro-life heart," Cardinal DiNardo says. "I know that the pro-life youth and young adults here and beyond will continue to be a source for renewed efforts and final victory in this truth and this reality."

Feb. 3, 2012
Cardinal DiNardo issues a letter to be read or distributed at parishes the weekend of Feb. 11 and 12. The letter offers background on the mandate, its violation of the First Amendment and encouragement to visit the U.S. bishops' website, www.usccb.org, to stay up-to-date on the issue. He also encourages Catholics to write their legislators to support legislation that would reverse the mandate.

FeB. 10, 2012
President Obama announces changes made to the HHS mandate. The USCCB issues a statement renewing a call to legislative action on religious liberty, stating that regulatory changes regarding the announcement by President Obama are limited and unclear; that only a rescission of mandate could complete the solution; and continued urging passage of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. †

Get the latest information

For background, updates and resources on the HHS mandate, visit www. archgh.org/Get-Involved/Conscience-Protection.