There has been a great deal of discussion about the threats to the First Amendment religious liberty rights of organizations and individuals, and to liberty generally, posed by the Obama Administration’s mandate  that private health insurers include contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in private insurance plans (“Contraception-Abortion Mandate”). And there is pending litigation and legislation to undo this mandate. Here, in essays on three consecutive days essays, I describe three broad ways forward.

Yesterday: replacing Obamacare’s government mandates with competitively priced, individually-owned, health insurance.

Today: encouraging religious institutions to rededicate themselves to their mission.

Tomorrow: expanding the number of employees of churches and members of religious, including ecumenical religious, orders.

Today: Encouraging Religious Institutions to Rededicate Themselves to Their Mission

 The American people of course have an interest in preserving religious liberty – their rights under the First Amendment. The people have two additional interests in the maintenance of the religious identity of institutions. One is the good of diversity. The second is the good of keeping promises across generations. See my essay on these pages. 

 When the Obama Administration last year refused to renew the grant of funds -- for the provision of care to victims of sex trafficking -- to a Catholic organization that had a proven track record in offering such care solely on the basis that the Catholic orgnization refused to refer victims for abortion, we must acknowledge one thing about the Obama Administration: It recognized that the Catholic organization was, and would likely continue to be, true to its principles. This same recognition obtains when people object to Catholic hospitals merging with non-Catholic hospitals if the succeeding hospital adopts Catholic principles of care. See the New York Times report of February 21. 

Similarly, patients throughout the United States know that, if a Catholic hospital is true to its principles, a woman who has just undergone a 10-hour labor will not be asked if she would like to be sterilized. A woman about to give birth in a delivery room will not have another woman nearby having her unborn child aborted or newborn abandoned. An ill person, of any age, or illness, or disability, will not be encouraged to commit suicide for any reason: convenience, cost savings, quality of life.  And the patient will not be neglected, abandoned, or given a lethal dose at the behest of anyone – including a family member.

The history of the healthcare provided by the Catholic Church in America is an extension in space and time of the two-thousand-year history of the Catholic Church. Consider the Catholic women religious who 150 years ago nursed both Union and Confederate soldiers. Their service is honored by the “Nuns of the Battlefield” statue in Washington, D.C.  And consider Sister Marianne Cope (1838-1918), an associate of Damien of Molokai , who for 30 years cared for individuals with incurable and terminal and communicable leprosy in Hawaii. Since the President went to school in Hawaii, he may have heard of her. She will be canonized in October. And since the President lived as an adult in Chicago, he may have heard of Mother Cabrini (1850-1917) who was canonized in 1946. He would at least have heard of the housing project in Chicago named after her: Cabrini-Green.

None of these women counted the cost. They freely left hearth and home, and gave up having their own hearth and home. We rightly honor the “band of brothers,” but, my, what a “band of sisters”! I regret to inform the President that, while he may attempt to conscript insurers and schools and hospitals to provide so-called preventive care in the form of contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, no one can force women like these to serve with this measure of devotion.

Such care as this is the same as that provided in the Fourth Century A.D. when the legalization of Christianity resulted in the blossoming throughout the Roman Empire of aboveground hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the elderly, typically located adjacent to the new and legal churches, placing side-by-side the opportunity to satisfy the dual commands of God, in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, to love Him and neighbor. (I have written and spoken about this concept, describing it as “faith-based land use planning.”) The late New York City Cardinal O’Connor, who publicly offered to assist any pregnant woman, was a successor of the author of the First Century A.D. Christian Didache (Greek for “teaching”) who declared abortion gravely wrong.

 If a Catholic institution does not adhere to Catholic principles, there is no raison d’etre, no reason for it to exist. The same is true for Lutheran, Jewish, Seventh-Day Adventist, Muslim and Mormon institutions. There should be no confusion on the part of a religious institution’s benefactors, officials, employees, suppliers, and patients, as to the identity of the institution. No patient entering a Catholic hospital should have any doubt as to whether her care will be, or will not be, in accordance with Catholic moral principles.

As a matter of internal governance, it is the duty, under canon law, for the bishops to ensure that any institution holding itself out as Catholic is following Catholic moral principles. Thus, a few years ago, there was a scandalous incident of a minor under Catholic agency supervision receiving an abortion. And Sandra Hapenney, Ph.D., has observed, in the context of sterilizations that occur in Catholic hospitals in violation of  the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic bishops [ERD] that:

A major difficulty in achieving a uniform application of the ERD is, unfortunately, that the directives make no reference to clinical diagnostic and procedure codes [such as ICD-9-CM diagnostic code V25.2] and do not mandate transparent reporting or oversight of a hospital’s actual policies and practices. Nor does the ERD mandate reporting violations within the hospital settings.

The bishops have some work to do.

Spero columnist James M. Thunder is an attorney based in Washington DC

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