Grant Gallicho February 4, 2012 - 10:30am
There's been a lot of it this week. A couple of selections:First, Bryan Cones tries to suss out which Catholic institutions will have to include contraception coverage in their employee health plans. You'll recall that not-for-profit religious institutions that employ and serve primarily co-religionists, whose mission is to inculcate its values, and are not-for-profits, are exempt. So, Bryan argues, when it comes to the Catholic Church, its parishes, parish schools, diocesan offices directly under the bishop's authority (like the newspaper), religious congregations and agencies they directly supervise (like the Jesuits and America magazine), and Catholic high schools should receive exemptions from the mandate. What about Catholic Charities? Bryan writes:
Most (maybe all?) Catholic Charities agencies are separately incorporated in dioceses. So it's "Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago." But -- and this is an important but -- most Catholic Charities agencies are not part of the diocesan legal structure. In other words, Catholic Charities is a separately incorporated social service agency connected to the local church "aspirationally" but not directly funded by it necessarily. In fact most of Catholic Charities budget comes from public sources (state and federal).Since Catholic Charities doesn't necessarily primarily employ Catholics or primarily serve them, I suspect they would not qualify for a religious exemption to the HHS rule, but because of their particular connection to the local church, they may have an argument for the exemption. For example, the archbishop of Chicago appoints all the board members of Catholic Charities in this diocese.
That's an interesting wrinkle, although in the end legal precedents may make it moot. In 2000, Catholic Charities of Sacramento sued the state over a law requiring insurance companies to include contraception coverage in plans with a prescription-drug benefit (obviously that wouldn't cover sterilization procedures) because it didn't qualify as a religious employer under the law. The challenge was rebuffed by two lower courts before the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, as it declined to hear a later suit brought against New York State for a similar law. The Supreme Court's refusal to hear those cases, along with other decisions upholding narrow religious exemptions for generally applicable laws -- including one written by Justice Scalia -- have led some to believe the HHS mandate will pass judicial scrutiny. Which doesn't mean the Obama administration made the right call here, although it may lend some credence to the wild theory that the president is not out to get Catholics.
As for Catholic colleges and hospitals, it doesn't look good. As Bryan notes, most of them were founded years ago by religious congregations who ceded ownership (and in many cases control) to lay-led boards. Perhaps smaller Catholic colleges will qualify (Bryan names Steubenville as a possibility), but larger ones like Notre Dame probably won't.A lot of questions remain: If the contraception-coverage mandate makes it through the courts, will that be the end of the litigation process? Or as religious institutions seeking a mandate receive rejections from HHS, will they bring suit against HHS for the criteria used to define a religious group? And how will those criteria be balanced? Organizations that primarily employ and serve co-religionists will be exempt. But how will "primarily" be interpreted? Or measured? How will HHS determine the extent to which an organization exists to pass on its religious values? What about Catholic groups that claim serving non-Catholics is part of the way they model their religious values? How will courts respond to the argument that the government has no place deciding on the quality of a church-sponsored group's religious claims?Second, on Thursday Catholic News Service ran an opinion piece disguised as a news story under the headline "Doctors Wonder How Federal Mandate Will Affect Practice of Medicine." A reader might be forgiven for not making it past the second paragraph, where one finds:
Although the requirement will not directly impact physicians, some said it represents a governmental intrusion into health care that could grow in the future.
Great, so no need for this piece then, right? Wrong. Several doctors have grave concerns about this governmental overreach into medicine. And feminists.
Dr. Kim Hardey, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Lafayette, La., said he hopes the decision by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Obama administration will cause Catholics and other Christians to rise up against "the liberal left" and "misguided feminists" who would like to see abortion also become a required part of every medical practice.
Apparently Dr. Hardey is unaware that the contraception-coverage mandate does not affect existing conscience-protection laws -- ones that ensure Catholic hospitals are not forced to perform abortions and offer contraception services.Even doctors-in-training are worried.
Sarah Smith is not a doctor yet, but she worries that the HHS mandate will further sour an atmosphere in which she already finds some challenges to her pro-life convictions."The one safe environment -- Catholic hospitals -- is not even going to be safe anymore."
Is Smith unaware that Catholic hospitals are safe from government intrusion forcing them to perform services contrary to their religious values?
"I am not at the point in my career where I have experienced" discrimination because of her pro-life beliefs, Smith said. "We are kind of insulated in medical school. But then you get out and you say, 'Wow, all these policies could really affect my practice.'"
But "these policies" don't affect the way Catholic hospitals provide medical care to their patients. In any way. So why is Catholic News Service running a string of alarmist quotes purported to address the HHS mandate when they are actually little more than reactionary statements based on the bogeyman of "government-run health care"?