By Tom Chapman
Last week, the federal Department of Health and Human Services announced that almost every religious organization must pay for sterilization and contraceptive coverage (including abortion-causing drugs) in their health care insurance plans for employees. This rule is part of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform law.
Please go to www.usccb.org/conscience and click on the “Write to Congress” link for a sample message to Congress in support of Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179, S. 1467). These bills would fix the problem. Other resources are available on the U.S. bishops’ website.
Many Catholic organizations oppose the new rule, including the leaders of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Relief Services.
This particular debate is not about whether contraception is moral. It is about how far the government should go in requiring religious organizations to pay for health care coverage that the organizations find immoral. The First Amendment protects the “free exercise” rights of religion beyond the freedom to worship behind our own closed doors.
Here’s a look at current bills of interest in the Iowa Legislature:
A House subcommittee continues to slowly work through the governor’s education reform bill, House Study Bill 517. The bill’s emphasis on quality teaching is important, as well as a greater focus on students being able to read before they leave the third grade. The Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) also supports parts of the bill that provide for increased opportunities in online learning and increased flexibility for local schools. Exactly how these issues will finally be addressed in the bill is still under discussion.
One concern that has been expressed by both public and private schools is the creation of a state employment pool of educators. Every accredited school, including religious schools, would be obligated to hire from this pool. Generally speaking, schools are reluctant about being required to go through the state Department of Education for each education position because it adds another layer of difficulty.
A subset of this issue from the religious school perspective is that the state can’t be asking potential teachers about religious beliefs. Our Catholic schools can ask, but once again it adds another layer in the hiring process.
It is refreshing to see much bipartisan support for improving our educational system.
DRUG TESTING FOR WELFARE RECIPIENTS
Similar bills in the House (HF 2036, HF 2045 and HF 2046) would require drug testing for some adults before receiving family investment program (welfare) benefits. The ICC opposes these bills. Another hearing will be held even though no one expressed support for the bills. The ICC objects to a policy that requires the state to stop helping those who can’t help themselves. In addition, poor people are targeted while many others who receive state assistance are not. According to the American Journal of Public Health the percentage of welfare recipients using, abusing or dependent on alcohol or drugs is relatively small and consistent with the general population. The ICC has some practical concerns about the bill in that some drug-using parents would be discouraged from applying for benefits at all, which would have an impact on their children.
The subcommittee members are Rep. Mark Brandenburg (R-Council Bluffs), Rep. David Heaton (R-Mount Pleasant), and Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad (D-Des Moines). The latter two asked some challenging questions during the meeting about how the bills would actually work.
Senate File 2042, introduced last week, would set up a state health care marketplace in relation to the Affordable Care Act. Because the federal health reform law is politically such a hot potato, it remains to be seen whether any action will be taken by a legislature that has divided control between Democrats and Republicans.
The exact structure and financing of such a marketplace are not among the core concerns of the ICC. Its interest is in encouraging the affordability, adequacy and simplicity of access to health care coverage by the public.
On a positive note, SF 2042 includes provisions for people to compare the exact costs and coverage provided by different plans in the marketplace. The bill also authorizes the marketplace to employ staff to assist people in signing up for coverage and assisting with grievances.
Genuine health care reform must protect and not threaten human life and dignity, especially for the most voiceless and vulnerable. Therefore, the ICC was disappointed that SF 2042 does not exclude elective abortion as a covered service. Without change, federal tax dollars will subsidize the purchase of plans with abortion coverage.
Gov. Terry Branstad proclaimed Jan. 22 as “Sanctity of Human Life Day” and called upon Iowans to “recognize the value of each human life and vow to protect the lives of the unborn, the infirm and the elderly.”
Jan. 22 marked the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It is estimated that there have been more than 54 million lives lost to abortions since then. Watch for future updates on the Prayer Rally for Life to be held March 5 in Des Moines at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church and the State Capitol.
To keep an eye on the bills the ICC is working on, go to www.iowacatholicconference.org and click on “Take Action.” You can also go there on your smartphone for a page that is especially formatted for mobile users.
(Tom Chapman is executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference.)