Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued a decision upholding as a tax the provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires individuals to purchase a health plan—the so-called “individual mandate.”
For nearly a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have been and continue to be consistent advocates for comprehensive health care reform to ensure access to life-affirming health care for all, especially the poorest and the most vulnerable. Although the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) did not participate in these cases and took no position on the specific questions presented to the Court, USCCB’s position on health care reform generally and on ACA particularly is a matter of public record. When the Church speaks of health care, it speaks not just of the human body, but about the whole person, body, soul and mind. We must respect each of these areas of the person while addressing the many issues with healthcare today. The bishops ultimately opposed final passage of ACA for several reasons.
First, ACA fails to respect and provide for essential conscience protection, both within and beyond the abortion context. Our first concern is for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society who should be the special focus of health care—the unborn, the poor, the migrant, and the elderly—but we must also take into account all those involved in these issues—all employers, insurers, and individuals —whose religious freedom is threatened by mandates that disregard the rights of conscience.
Second, ACA allows the use of federal funding for abortions contradicting longstanding federal policy and makes coverage of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and birth control mandatory within such a narrow definition of “religious exemption” that no employer or even religious institution will be exempt from providing.
Third, ACA fails to treat immigrant workers and their families fairly, excluding them from even purchasing health care coverage with their own money. It is indeed ironic, that in an effort to create universal health care, we find instead that a whole sub-class of people has been created and judged less than deserving of care, thereby only widening the gap that a health care law was meant to eliminate.
As Catholics, we are often in the position of taking the lead on difficult moral issues in our country, but the issues at stake are important for all people of faith and indeed for every American. Following enactment of ACA, the USCCB has not joined in efforts to repeal the law in its entirety, instead focusing on the need to correct the fundamental flaws described above. I encourage you to continue to inform yourself about these developments and to contact your representatives and senators, urging them to pass, and the Administration to sign, legislation to fix these flaws.
Our call to continue the healing ministry of Christ to the vulnerable, weak and suffering should not require us to violate our consciences. For this reason, the Church will continue to promote a vision of health care that respects the gift of every life, from conception to natural death, and the sacred temple of conscience, with the greatest of reverence.
+ Richard F. Stika
Bishop of Knoxville