By: Amy Lutz
While surfing through The University News online last week, I stumbled upon an opinion piece titled “Catholic Church Receives Federal Funds but Refuses Laws.” The piece is based upon the Federal Government’s recent contraception mandate and the subsequent outcry from various religious organizations, primarily the Catholic Church. At first glance, the article appears to be well researched and air tight. However, as I delved into the author’s argument even more, I found it to be simplistic and idealistic. He argues that the Catholic Church does not have a place to argue with the mandate because they receive federal funds in the form of Medicare and Medicaid payments. If only it were that simple. However, all government funds come with strings attached and refusing to accept the funds makes business difficult, if not impossible. Catholic hospitals are now faced with a classic Catch 22 situation.
If we accept the author’s premise, Catholic Hospitals will be placed in an impossible situation. If they choose their conscience and refuse federal funds (which I doubt is very feasible anyway), their health care services will either go downhill rapidly, skyrocket in price, or both. In any case, it will be the patients who are hurt the most. Should the hospitals choose to comply with the mandate, they will be forced to go against their religious beliefs. Isn’t this what the separation of church and state is for? It is not the Catholics who are wrong, it’s (somewhat unsurprisingly) the federal government. Since when is ok for the government to force, or at least strongly push, a religious institution to disregard their own doctrine? Perhaps I could see the logic in an argument supporting the mandate of life saving care for a child whose parents disagree with invasive surgery on religious grounds, but this is a different case. What we have here is not a case of “life-saving treatment.” We’re talking about contraception for crying out loud!
Despite Obama’s supposed “exemption,” Catholic and other religious hospitals are still stuck in a difficult situation. Under the revised mandate, faith-based organizations will not be directly forced to provide contraceptives to patients. Instead, the institutions’ insurance providers will have to provide birth control free of charge. However, this means that the faith-based organizations will still have to subsidize the insurance companies to ensure that free birth control is available. According to Tony Perkins, the Family Research Council President, “However, it won’t be free, because the insurance companies will increase the premium and administrative costs to the employer.” Higher administrative costs means higher costs for patients. Because 1 in 6 patients in the United States are treated in a Catholic hospital, this mandate has potential to do quite a bit of far-reaching damage. Also, higher hospital costs make it difficult for hospital administration to pay employees; thus, layoffs are likely (Note: Catholic hospitals employ 530,673 full time and 235,221 part time employees). And I thought that the President was actually attempting to combat unemployment. Silly me.
I doubt that President Obama expected the intensity of the outcry against this mandate when he announced it earlier this year, but it is far from undeserved. This overt attack on personal conscience and religious liberty is insulting at best. The government needs to get out of our churches and protect the rights of conscience, not trample them.