The District of Columbia passed an ordinance in July 2000 that required all health insurance plans covering the cost of prescription drugs to include coverage for the cost of contraceptives. Contraceptives would include intrauterine devices and morning-after pills, which effectively abort embryos. Unlike similar legislation in several states, the D.C. bill did not include a "conscience clause" exempting religious employers, such as Catholic and Georgetown Universities, the Archdiocese of Washington, Providence Hospital, and the U.S. Catholic Conference. During the debates, Councilman Vincent B. Orange, who was advocating the inclusion of a conscience clause, urged the council "not to belittle established church doctrine." "This is an issue of the Bill of Rights, an issue of freedom of religion," he said. "We are trying to tell an organization to violate its own convictions." Jesuit Father Leo J. O'Donovan, president of Georgetown University, said that the measure "would require Georgetown and many other Catholic organizations to violate the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church. I believe it would be profoundly wrong, and quite likely unconstitutional, to ask Georgetown and other Catholic institutions to do this." But a homosexual councilman in support of the bill without a conscience clause stated, "I am very concerned about having religious principles impact public health policy. Are we going to say we are going to defer to Rome in terms of our views?"
More recently, in January 2003, the state of New York passed a similar law, the Women's Health and Wellness Act, requiring schools and other institutions to include coverage for the cost of contraceptives in their employee health insurance policies. Certain Catholic and Baptist groups filed a lawsuit challenging the measure and strongly urged that at the very least a full religious exemption be added to the law. "The state is putting itself in the position of determining what is Catholic and what is not Catholic, and we think that's a clear entanglement of government into religious affairs," said Dennis Poust, spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference.
While the law does include a limited religious exemption that covers churches themselves, Poust said the measure "was very clearly drawn to eliminate Catholic hospitals and nursing homes and Catholic charitable agencies-social service agencies-and to eliminate schools and universities All of the ministries of the Church, in effect, have been excluded and deemed to be not Catholic by the state of New York." Poust added that he anticipated that in the future the same political groups may push through a bill establishing mandatory coverage for elective abortions." [Pro-abortion forces are] trying to get it to the point where the Church cannot remain in the business of providing health and human services. Get us out of the way because we're bad for business for Planned Parenthood," said Poust.
Planned Parenthood fired back, saying they were "troubled that Catholic social service groups, which are staffed by committed women of many faiths and serve diverse communities, would rather impose their own religious doctrine than defend equitable healthcare insurance
Even if the lawsuit ultimately fails, this action creates a cloud of anxiety for the thousands of people employed by Catholic-affiliated services-not to mention the publics that are dependent on these services:' There you have it: The religious beliefs of Catholic employers are to be accorded no weight in this age of unlimited tolerance.
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