NEW HAVEN – The Knights of Columbus has filed a formal comment with the Department of Health and Human Services asking the Obama administration to expand religious exemptions or rescind "altogether" the mandate for insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception.
"It is time for this administration to chart another course," said the June 19 letter, signed by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.
The organization said the HHS mandate requires private Catholic individuals and entities, including the Knights of Columbus, to "violate their most deeply held religious beliefs" in apparent violation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
The Catholic fraternal and charitable group said "it is improper to deny statutory and First Amendment rights to religious liberty in order to create an entitlement to sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception."
The Knights advocated for an expanded religious exemption that protects "all objecting individuals and organizations from cooperating in actions that genuinely offend their religious beliefs and moral convictions."
They also stated that the right to individual free exercise of religion and the right of institutions are "inseparably linked."
"Both must be protected."
The Department of Health and Human Services held a comment period on proposed rules for preventive services under the 2010 health care legislation known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The period for comment ended Tuesday.
On Jan. 20, the federal department finalized a rule which required employers’ health plans to provide no co-pay coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs, as "preventive care" for women. Because of the narrowness of the mandate’s religious exemption, many Catholic institutions fall under the requirement despite their moral objections to the procedures and drugs.
On Feb. 10 the Obama administration made a proposal to require insurance companies, not employers, to provide the coverage. Catholic and other faith leaders said the proposal is still unacceptable.
The present HHS comment period on that proposal could help determine the outcome of the conflict.
The Knights of Columbus has 1.3 million U.S. members, who donate millions of dollars to charity and work millions of volunteer hours each year.
Other Catholic organizations also submitted comment for new proposed rules.
The Catholic Health Association argued for a broader religious exemption in a June 15 letter, reversing its earlier support for the Obama administration’s accommodation that would require insurance companies to foot the bill for the mandate.
On June 18, the National Catholic Bioethics Center submitted a letter calling for the full rescinding of the mandate. At minimum, it said, the government should provide a "robust, non-discretionary exemption" for any employer, insurance company, college, or individual with religious objections.
A comment was also filed today by the Bioethics Defense Fund. The fund focused on how the accommodation still involves material cooperation with evil and also presented a scientific argument that the mandated drugs are capable of terminating human life.