US Bishops: Pregnancy Isn't a Disease

Protest Inclusion of Contraception, Sterilization as Illness Prevention

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WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 20, 2010 ( The U.S. bishops are protesting the Department of Health and Human Services inclusion of contraception and sterilization as illness prevention measures, and are asserting that pregnancy is not a disease.

The health services department is currently deliberating a final list of preventive services that group and individual health plans will be required to cover, as stipulated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

In a letter dated Sept. 17 to the department, the bishops’ conference general counsel, Anthony Picarello, and associate general counsel, Michael Moses, expressed the «particular concern» of the prelates regarding the proposed mandate of contraceptives and sterilization as preventive services.

«To prevent pregnancy is not to prevent a disease,» it stated. «Indeed, contraception and sterilization pose their own unique and serious health risks to the patient.»

The letter pointed out that these «services» are also «morally problematic for many stakeholders, including religiously-affiliated health care providers and insurers.»

«In our view,» it affirmed, «prescription contraception as well as chemical and surgical sterilization are particularly inappropriate candidates for inclusion under mandated ‘preventive services’ for all health plans.»

The letter argued that these means do not share the same meaning and purpose of the preventive services such as blood pressure and cholesterol screening, diabetes screening for hypertensive patients, various cancer and sexually transmitted infection screenings, and others.

It noted that «these services are emphasized because they can prevent serious illnesses of life-threatening conditions that, once they do occur, will demand treatment to cure of reverse them.»

«This rationale simply does not apply to contraception and sterilization.»

No medical justification

The letter acknowledged that «at various time women may have serious personal reasons for wanting to avoid or delay a pregnancy.»

However, it added, «these personal reasons do not transform a temporary or permanent condition of infertility into a prerequisite for health, or turn a healthy pregnancy into a disease condition.»

The letter pointed out that contraception «is almost always prescribed for personal or lifestyle reasons, not for any specific medical justification; and it poses its own serious risks and side effects, some of which can be life-threatening.»

«Use of prescription contraception actually increases a woman’s risk of developing some of the very conditions that the ‘preventive services’ listed in the Interim Final Rules are designed to prevent,» it added.

Nor can contraception be called «preventive» of abortion, the letter argued, because «abortion is not itself a disease condition, but a separate procedure that is performed only by agreement between a woman and a health professional.»

As well, it added, «studies have shown that the percentage of unintended pregnancies that are ended by abortion is higher if the pregnancy occurred during use of a contraceptive.»

Lastly, the letter expressed concern that this mandate would «pose an unprecedented threat to rights of conscience for religious employers and others who have moral or religious objections to these procedures.»

«In this regard, the administration’s promise that Americans who like their current coverage will be able to keep it under health care reform would be a hollow pledge,» it asserted.

Looking at legal precedents, the letter noted that «federal law has thus far left insurance issuers, employers and enrollees to negotiate such coverage in accord with their personal preferences and their moral and religious commitments.»

It stated, «The federal government has no reason now to take away this freedom.»

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