Bishops: HHS proposals are ‘violation of religious freedom and bad medicine’

NEW YORK – Proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act that were announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on July 25, are “a violation of religious freedom and bad medicine,” according to multiple U.S. bishops’ conference chairmen.

Chief among the bishops’ concerns are regulations that would mandate health care workers to perform transgender surgeries and require health insurance providers to cover the procedures. They also fear that HHS will force health care workers to perform abortions, or risk their jobs.

“Catholic health care ministries serve everyone, no matter their race, sex, belief system, or any other characteristics,” said the USCCB chairmen in a July 27 statement. “The same excellent care will be provided in a Catholic hospital to all patients, including patients who identify as transgender, whether it be for a broken bone, or for cancer, but we cannot do what our faith forbids. We object to harmful procedures, not to patients.”

“Sadly, Monday’s proposed regulations threaten our ability to carry out our healing ministries, and others’ to practice medicine,” they continued.

According to the Catholic Health Association, there are 654 Catholic hospitals in the U.S., 299 of which provide obstetric services.

The Affordable Care Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010.

On July 25, HHS issued proposed revisions to its regulations implementing Section 1557 of the legislation. Section 1557 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs or activities, according to the HHS website. It’s further described by HHS as “one of the government’s most powerful tools to ensure nondiscriminatory access to health care.”

The Trump administration narrowed the scope of Section 1557. The recently proposed changes would reinstate the section so as to cover HHS health programs and activities, according to a news release from the government agency.

The proposed changes also “aligns regulatory requirements with federal court opinions that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex including sexual orientation and gender identity,” and “makes clear that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discriminations on the basis of pregnancy related conditions, including pregnancy termination.”

“This proposed rule ensures that people nationwide can access health care free from discrimination,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a July 25 statement. “Standing with communities in need is critical, particularly given increased attacks on women, trans youth, and health care providers. Health care should be a right not dependent on looks, location, love, language, or the type of care someone needs.”

The USCCB statement was signed by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the conference’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage and Family Life; and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chairman of the Committee on Religious Liberty.

The chairmen are also skeptical of claims by HSS that the proposed regulations will respect religious liberty, even though HHS stated that it “refines and strengthens the process for raising conscience and religious freedom objections.”

“Assurances that HHS will honor religious freedom laws offer little comfort when HHS is actively fighting court rulings that declared HHS violated religious freedom laws the last time they tried to impose such a mandate,” the chairmen argued.

The Catholic Health Association weighed in on the proposed changes on July 25, saying that the organization supports the principle of nondiscrimination in health care.

“We will analyze the proposal to understand its potential effect on both patients and health care providers,” Sister Mary Haddad, CHA’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “Whatever the content or effect of this proposal, we reiterate that every person seeking health care is welcome in a Catholic health care facility and will be treated with dignity and respect.”

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg

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