BY NANCY FRAZIER OʼBRIEN A RECOMMENDATION that all health plans be required to cover contraceptives without a patient copayment “fails the tests of logic and sound science” and does not constitute good clinical medicine, the Catholic MedicalAssociation in America has said.
The association criticised advice by the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Preventive Services for Women advising that the Department of Health and Human Services include “the full range of Food and Drug Administrationapproved contraceptive methods, sterilisation procedures and patient education and counselling” as mandated services for all health plans under the new health reform law.
Such a mandate “threatens substantial harm to the health of women and to the civil rights of millions of Americans,” the association said.
The statement was released the day after Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said the panel’s recommendation showed that “there is an ideology at work ... that goes beyond any objective assessment of the health needs of women and children”.
Cardinal DiNardo, who chairs the US bishops’Committee on Pro Life Activities, said that if Kathleen Sebelius, US Secretary for Health and Human Services, accepted the recommendation “these controversial practices will be mandated for all insurance plans – public and private – without copay[ment] from anyone receiving them.” Mrs Sebelius, who was expected to act on the recommendations by Monday next week, called the panel’s report “historic” and said; “Before today, guidelines regarding women’s health and preventive care did not exist. These recommendations are based on science and existing literature.” Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, said that “the Catholic health ministry will expect the same conscience protection that allows us to carry out our mission in this pluralistic environment respecting our religious beliefs”.
Sister MaryAnn Walsh, spokeswoman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in an article for the the Washington Post that said she would “shudder to think ... that the US government would force me to subsidise abortion and other services to get health insurance from a private company”.
She said that some of the contraceptives approved for use by the Food and DrugAdministration have an abortifacient effect. “This is Big Brother at its worst and I cringe at the thought that anyone, including a Church organisation, might be told by government to fund a procedure through private insurance plans for their own employees,” Sister Mary Ann Walsh said. “Having government decide such questions is a clear violation of conscience.” Cardinal DiNardo and Sister Mary Ann Walsh both urged passage of the Respect for Rights of ConscienceAct, which would allow health insurance plans to exclude procedures that violate the moral or religious convictions of those providing or purchasing the plan.
The cardinal said he was writing to all members of Congress urging co-sponsorship of the legislation, which was introduced by Republicans Jeff Fortenberry and Dan Boren.
Sister Walsh said the bill “would prevent new mandates under [the health reform law] from being used to discriminate against persons and institutions for acting according to their conscience on these matters”.
The National Catholic Bioethics Centre said in written testimony to the government last September that any mandate that insurance companies cover “contraceptives, sterilisations and drugs or devices that induce the expulsion of a human embryo before or after implanta tion would violate the consciences of many Americans, and would contradict promises by the Obama administration that the [health reform law] does not undermine existing conscience protections in law”.
“Pregnancy is not a disease and contraceptives, sterilisations, abortifacients and abortion should not be included as mandated preventive services,” the testimony said.
In its statement the Catholic Medical Association said that mandating insurance coverage of contraceptives was both “a failed strategy” to reduce unplanned pregnancies and “unethical public policy”.