A San Jose secular daily has used its editorial page to criticize three Catholic colleges in the Bay Area for opposing a proposed federal mandate that would force virtually all health insurance plans in the country to cover contraception.
The University of San Francisco and Santa Clara University – both Jesuit institutions – along with Saint Mary’s College of California, run by the Christian Brothers, filed statements opposing a proposed U.S. Health and Human Services Department regulation that would force many Catholic institutions to provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans.
The deadline for filing comments on the proposed regulation was Sept. 30, and many other Catholic schools in the country also expressed opposition to the rule. The regulation is strongly opposed by U.S. Catholic bishops.
But in an Oct. 13 editorial, the San Jose Mercury News singled out the three Bay Area schools, saying they should ignore Church teachings -- and the bishops -- and submit to both federal and state law.
“Santa Clara University, Saint Mary's College and the University of San Francisco are already required by California law to cover the costs of contraception for employees and sometimes for students,” said the editorial. “So it's a bit of a surprise that the three Bay Area colleges are joining Catholic schools nationwide to fight a federal law requiring new health plans to cover birth control.”
“None of the laws interfere with colleges' ability to teach that contraception is wrong,” opined the Mercury News editorial writers. “Nor do the laws inhibit religion. Employees of these institutions should have the same rights as others under new federal health care laws.”
The proposed HHS regulation, said the editorial, exempts “churches and for church-related organizations whose primary functions are religious in nature,” but Catholic schools don’t fall into that category. “About half the students at those three Bay Area colleges are not Catholic, which is a testament to their quality and their commitment to diversity,” said the editorial.
“Catholic colleges,” the editorial concluded, “should accept the terms of the federal law and have new health plans cover birth control for employees and for students not covered by their parents' plans.”
US bishops argue that the regulation would violate conscience rights, an argument the editorial said could be gotten around because the colleges would still be able to teach that contraception is wrong.
In an Oct. 12 news release, the USCCB noted that leaders of 20 national Catholic organizations had signed a joint letter opposing the proposed HHS regulation – and the statement had been published the previous day in ads in the Washington, D.C., newspapers Politico and The Hill.
“The new rule on mandated ‘preventive services’ issued by the HHS ‘will force Catholic organizations that play a vital role in providing health care and other needed services either to violate their conscience or severely curtail those services,’” said the USCCB news release. “This would harm both religious freedom and access to health care.”
“The new rule would force employers to pay for such services as sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs which can induce abortion,” according to the news release. “As of now, a narrowly-written religious exemption to the rule would apply only to church institutions that hire and serve mostly Catholics and meet other narrow criteria, thus excluding most Catholic schools, hospital, and social service agencies.”
Among the 20 Catholic leaders who signed the statement was Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez.