FAQ on HHS Mandate

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Updated: Mon., May 16, 2016


Bishop David A. Zubik testified on November 13th 2014 in Pittsburgh federal court before U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab a lawsuit to protect the fundamental right of religious liberty in the United States. The lawsuit seeks to enjoin the mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requiring the Church and Church-related entities, under the threat of punitive fines, to provide access to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization services, contraceptives and related counseling by January 1, 2014. After a favorable ruling for religious freedom by Judge Schwab in the District Court, the government appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which ruled in favor of the government. The case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 23, 2016. On May 15, 2016, the Justices unanimously vacated the previous decisions and remanded the case to the Circuit Court of Appeals from which it originated. The Supreme Court Justices asked the Appeals Court to allow the opposing parties to reach a mutually acceptable agreement that would uphold both religious freedom and the government’s goals for health insurance.

Why has Bishop David Zubik filed the lawsuit?

As a Plaintiff in this case, Bishop Zubik joins Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Inc. as well as other plaintiffs around the country, Catholic and non-Catholic, who are asking the courts to stop an unprecedented governmental assault on the ability of religious persons and groups to practice their religion without being forced to violate their deepest moral convictions.

By initiating this lawsuit, isn't Bishop Zubik working against health coverage for everyone?

Bishop Zubik, with the bishops of the United States, supports access to health care coverage for everyone. This is a position that the bishops have supported for nearly a century. The lawsuit does not call into question the Affordable Care Act itself. To clarify, the lawsuit brings to the courts our most serious objection to one aspect of the Affordable Care Act as imposed by HHS, specifically the mandate which takes away religious freedom by forcing religious institutions and private business owners to violate their conscience and religious beliefs.

Why is the diocese spending money on a lawsuit when the money could be used to help the poor?

The Diocese of Pittsburgh is spending NO funds on this lawsuit as the legal representation is being done pro bono by the law firm of Jones Day. Through the lawsuit, the Diocese of Pittsburgh is protecting the Church’s ability to continue to serve the poor as it has for generations.

What is the difference between the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) and the HHS Mandate? Aren’t they the same thing?

The lawsuit is not over the entire Affordable Care Act. Rather, the concerns are focused only on one specific segment of the application of the law by HHS. That mandate forces faith-based institutions to facilitate access to “preventive services,” including contraceptives, sterilization and abortion inducing drugs and related counseling, against the will of the Catholic Church and other religious groups. 

That everyone has access to affordable healthcare and that people with pre-existing conditions not be dropped by health insurance carriers is essential and is strongly supported by the Church. One of the missions of the Church is to care for the sick and to protect human life and dignity, offering preferential care and support for the poor and most vulnerable. Since 1919, the U. S. Catholic Bishops have outlined their support for the right to universal health care. 

Rather, the HHS mandate forces the Church and Church-related entities, under the threat of severe monetary fines, to provide access to services contrary to Church moral teaching by January, 2014. This is a direct government intrusion into the religious freedom of faith-based entities and private business owners. It is a violation of constitutionally-protected religious liberty. 

Isn’t the Church trying to force its beliefs about contraception and abortion on everyone else?

Not at all.  It's the other way around. The Church is being forced to accept, promote and pay for what the government dictates as “preventive services” – contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients – in direct violation of its moral beliefs and our country's Constitution.

The HHS mandate forces faith-based entities to provide employees with health plans which will include coverage for abortion or contraception.  This amounts to giving employees coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and abortifacients – as often as the employee chooses, and as long as the employment relationship lasts.

The Church is not trying to force others to accept its beliefs. The Church is simply trying to protect its core religious beliefs and religious freedom and to avoid being coerced to facilitate coverage for services it deems morally objectionable.

While the government has determined that these services be included in the Affordable Care Act, the Church or individual business owners should not be forced to provide such coverage against their will.

Didn’t the government make an accommodation that exempted the Church from providing coverage for these objectionable services?

The government announced what it has called its “final rules” in late June. In effect, the rules divided the Church into two wings: (1) a “worship” wing limited to “houses of worship and religious orders” that provide religious services; and (2) a “charitable and educational” wing that provides what the government views as secular services. This false distinction ignores the reality that the Catholic Church engages in charity and education as an exercise of religion, not as an add-on. The Church is not made up of Catholics who happen to provide educational and charitable services. The Church provides educational and charitable services because we are Catholic. 

By excluding Catholic charitable and educational organizations from the category of exempt “religious employers,” the government is creating a false dichotomy between faith and practice of the faith, between faith believed and faith lived. It is re-defining and limiting freedom of religion to the freedom to worship behind closed doors on Sunday. 

The HHS mandate violates the rights of all Americans to engage in the life of society and the public arena as people of faith.