By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
In a blatant example of why rigorous conscience protection is needed in the U.S., the state of Wisconsin has passed a new budget in which employers are required to include contraception coverage in their employees’ health insurance. Religious employers are not exempted from the mandate, which prompted the Wisconsin Bishops Conference to issue a strong objection to the policy, calling the move “blatant insensitivity to our moral values and legal rights.”
“This mandate will compel Catholic dioceses, parishes, and other agencies that buy health insurance to pay for a medical service that Catholic teaching holds to be gravely immoral,” the bishops wrote in a letter to the faithful in Wisconsin.
“Only dioceses or agencies that are self insured, such as La Crosse and Superior, are not covered by this mandate.”
The letter also criticizes the manner in which the law was adopted – without any open debate.
Pro-life Wisconsin reports that Democrats on the state’s budget-writing committee inserted two controversial social policy items in the biennial budget bill late Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend. The first measure forced all Wisconsin pharmacies to dispense prescribed contraceptive drugs or devices “without delay.” The second measure forced commercial health insurance plans and self-insured governmental health plans (state, county, town, village, or school district) to cover contraceptive drugs and devices. Both measures were part of Planned Parenthood’s agenda and both passed on strict party-line votes.
“Processes consistent with open government permit competing arguments at public hearings,” the bishops argue. “This process did not.”
The letter also points out that while other states have mandated contraceptive services in health care plans, Wisconsin is one of only a few states where the mandate fails to accommodate those whose religious or moral values are compromised by it.
“This mandate violates not just our religious values, but also our constitutional rights,” the bishops say. “The right of conscience established in the Wisconsin Constitution protects the minority from the majority. That is to say, it protects all of us. For in our pluralistic society, every person, whatever his or her faith, is a member of a religious minority.”
The bishops also correctly point out that the constitutional right to religious freedom embraces more than just the right to hold private beliefs and affirm personal values. “Such freedom also includes the ability to bear public witness to our values – by what we do and what we decline to do. It is such witness that changes hearts and transforms culture.”
They add: “Nowhere does the Constitution say that the right of conscience is protected except in matters related to human reproduction. Nor does it limit the scope of religious freedom to tenets that conform to a party platform or to the agenda of powerful interest groups.”
The Church condemns contraception because it prevents the full and reciprocal self-giving that is essential to Christian marriage and diminishes the role of God, the giver of life, within marriage.
The bishops are currently assessing how they will contest this policy.
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