Not a Disease
Catholic New York Editorial
November 12, 2010
A panel of experts is set to begin a series of meetings to consider what kind of preventive care for women should be covered at no cost to the patient under President Obama’s health care reform act.
A set of “interim final rules” of more than 50 covered services for women, men and children has already been released and covers a broad range of generally accepted preventive services and screenings such as colonoscopy, immunizations, blood pressure testing and lead screening for at-risk children. It also includes autism screening for children at 18 and 24 months and tobacco cessation programs for adults.
The 15 services listed as specific to women include such familiar and expected procedures as annual mammograms, PAP tests and bone marrow scans to detect osteoporosis, as well as more esoteric, but no less useful, services, like folic acid supplements for women who may become pregnant (folic acid is known to greatly reduce the risk of certain birth defects).
What’s not on that list, and rightly so, are contraceptives—drugs and devices whose sole purpose is to prevent pregnancy.
Pregnancy, as everyone knows, is a natural, healthy condition.
It’s not a disease, like cancer, to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible; neither is it an infectious condition, like polio, that’s preventable with immunization.
But with the Department of Health and Human Services continuing its deliberations on covered services for women—with an eye toward issuing guidelines by Aug. 1—concerns are mounting by the U.S. Catholic Bishops and others that contraceptives and possibly sterilizations will be mandated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Indeed, Planned Parenthood has already announced that it will lobby public officials to insist on mandating “family planning” services in the final rules, attempting to ensure that these drugs and devices will be available free or at very low cost to the woman.
Contraception, however, is a choice. The choice is made for personal or lifestyle reasons, not for medical or health reasons. And the drugs and devices pose their own serious risks and side effects, some of which can be life-threatening. Many individuals and institutions, including the Catholic Church, also oppose artificial contraception on moral and religious grounds.
The bishops, and others opposed to “family planning” mandates, also are deeply concerned that drugs sold as “emergency contraceptives,” particularly the new drug known as “Ella,” can actually cause abortion, even weeks after conception has taken place.
Because the mandate of preventive services would apply broadly to group health plans and insurance companies, adding contraceptives to the list would pose “an unprecedented threat to rights of conscience for religious employers and others who have moral or religious objections,” including the Catholic Church, said representatives of the U.S. bishops in a recent letter to HHS.
The federal government has had a longstanding commitment to respect the rights of conscience of all citizens, and to allow health care institutions and religious employers to participate in health coverage without violating their moral or religious convictions.
We urge the government to allow that commitment to stand.
This column first appeared as an unsigned editorial in the archdiocesan weekly paper, Catholic New York, on November 4, 2010, and is used with permission. For more information on the bishops’ pro-life activities, please visit www.usccb.org/prolife.