Moral Implications of US Health Mandate Weighed by Ethics Panel

National Catholic Bioethics Center Offers Guidelines For Non-Exempt Business Owners

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By Junno Arocho

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, AUG. 10, 2012 ( The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), a research center whose mission is to promote the dignity of the human person, published a set of guidelines aimed to help non-exempt businesses with the moral implications of the Obama administration’s Health & Human Services mandate. 

The mandate, which has faced opposition from the US Catholic Bishops Conference and other Christian denominations and non-Christian religious leaders, requires non-exempt business owners and institutions to pay for insurance that provides abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization procedures to employees. 

Although businesses were given till Aug. 1 to comply with the mandate, the administration has given religious institutions a “safe harbor” year till 2013 to enforce it. The NCBC, however, stated that “such an accommodation is premised on the notion that the federal government has the power to define what constitutes a religious organization, in direct violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

The research center’s report, while encouraging companies that have filed lawsuits against the mandate, acknowledge that there are businesses that do not have the means for such action. Thus, it notes, companies are faced with four choices: willingly assent to the coverage, provide insurance that does not comply with the mandate and therefore face legal repercussions, drop all coverage while providing fair compensation for all benefits, or temporarily comply under protest. 

The panel of ethicists leading the NCBC’s study was led by moral theologian and current president of the research center, John Haas. The panel weighed the moral licitness of the options business owners face.

Of the options for non-exempt businesses, the NCBC stated that dropping insurance coverage altogether would seem to be the moral choice under the circumstances. “As unfortunate as it is, this approach appears to be the most morally sound and fiscally survivable option for the employer at present,” the report stated. 

The option to temporarily comply under protest was seen as a “measure of last resort,» provided that compliance ends once “insurance exchanges are available to employees in

2014.” The center also acknowledged a glimmer of hope in legal challenges against the mandate citing the recent victory by Hercules Industries, a Colorado-based company that successfully secured a temporary injunction against the mandate. 

The only option that could not be morally licit, the report concluded “is the first one outlined above, that is, willing compliance with the mandate. Other options outlined above could be morally licit depending on the circumstances faced by those being forced to comply,” the report concluded. 

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For the NCBC’s full guidelines for non-exempt business owners, go to

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