Phoenix bishop vows not to comply with HHS contraception ruling. (UPDATED)
In a letter to the Catholics of the Diocese of Phoenix, Bishop Thomas Olmsted promises not to obey the “unjust law” requiring certain Catholic institutions to include contraception coverage in their employee health-care plans. “Unless the rule is overturned,” Olmsted writes, “we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer penalties for doing so). The administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.” Olmsted closes by calling on Catholics to “commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail” — and to contact their elected representatives “in support of legislation that would reverse the administration’s decision.” (Read the whole letter here.)
Update: The letter, according to USCCB spokeswoman Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, is part of a coordinated effort to inform Catholics about the bishops’ opposition to the mandate. The bishops conference “provided a template [letter],” Walsh told me, “at the request of several bishops.” (Of course, each bishop is free to adapt the letter, or not issue one at all.) Is it the policy of the USCCB to engage in civil disobedience when the contraception mandate goes into effect next year? “At present, no decision on strategy has been reached,” Walsh said.
Olmsted fails to mention that some Catholic institutions are exempt from the mandate — the parishes where his letter will be read, for example. He also asserts that the HHS ruling forces Catholic organizations to pay for “abortion-inducing drugs” — that is, the so-called morning-after pill. That talking point has been made by several critics of the ruling, including Archbishop Dolan, who calls them “abortion drugs.” Is it true? Do morning-after pills really cause abortions? As William Saletan and Ross Douthat have pointed out, while Plan B could theoretically cause an abortion, there is no evidence that it does (here’s one study showing it does not).
This debate isn’t going to get any easier. But it might get less confusing if those involved lowered the rhetorical heat in favor of dealing in actual facts.
Update: Bishop Jenky of Peoria gets into the act. And Archbishop Aymond of New Orleans offers his more measured response. And Bishop Zubik of Pittsburgh offers his less measured response. And Bishop Sheehan of Santa Fe weighs in, sounding a lot like Olmsted (almost word for word), and revealing that Archbishop Dolan has asked “all bishops to address this issue locally.”