No Law Can Be Based on Injustice

Affordable Care Act has noble goal, but fundamental problem

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Here is the latest column from Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, reprinted from the Southern Nebraska Register.

In 2010, the United States Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was designed by President Obama and Congressional leaders to expand access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance coverage in the United States.

After the law passed, President Obama said that the Affordable Care Act’s goal was “making affordable coverage available to all Americans, including those with preexisting conditions.”

In fact, this is a noble goal. Ensuring reasonably priced and accessible health care is a public good, one that the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls a duty of every political state. The Catechism teaches that, “the political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially, in keeping with the country’s institutions, the right to medical care, assistance for the aged, and family benefits.”

Ensuring the right to medical care is a part of the state’s duty to assist the family. The family is the sovereign and fundamental unit of every community, and the goal of the state is to support the family. While the Affordable Care Act undertakes the noble goal of health insurance coverage, it also causes great disruption to families across the United States.

Whether the Affordable Care Act has actually helped more families to gain insurance coverage is a question for economists and policy analysts. Whether it is an efficient, affordable, and sustainable program is a matter for further study. But what is clear is that the Affordable Care Act undermines the right of every family, every citizen, and every religious institution to live according to the dictates of their conscience.

The Affordable Care Act still requires many business owners and religious institutions to provide and facilitate contraceptive coverage, in violation of their consciences. Although many federal courts have considered this issue, and the Supreme Court has expanded conscience rights to some businesses, many religious institutions are still required by law to ignore or deny the basic convictions of their fundamental beliefs. Providing universal access to contraception does not support the family—it undermines the dignity of women, the dignity of marriage, and the meaning of our God-given sexuality.

We face many threats to our religious liberty in the United States. All of them are serious. But the contraceptive mandate remains among the most profoundly offensive threats to religious liberty in our country. We need to continue to oppose it, and to support those who fight it, in courtrooms, and legislatures, and in the realm of healthcare administration.

This week, President Obama was invited to address the leadership of the Catholic Health Association—a group that represents and supports Catholic hospital systems across the country. He addressed concerns about the future of healthcare, especially the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act threatens the religious liberty of American Christians, and the president’s address failed to recognize that.

The Catholic Health Association claimed to be “delighted and honored” to welcome President Obama to their assembly. Of course, patriotism is a virtue, and we should always be glad to dialogue with our civic leaders. But we should also tell the truth. This week, thousands of Catholic doctors, members of the Catholic Medical Association, called upon the president to withdraw his threats to our basic religious liberties. We should be truly “delighted” when the Affordable Care Acts ceases to threaten our fundamental religious liberties.

Thousands of doctors, from across the country, understand that health care coverage should not come at the expense of the rights of families, or the rights of religious believers. No just law can be based on injustice. Each one of us needs to continue to pray for the end to the contraceptive mandate, the end to federal support for abortion rights, and for authentic health care reform, which makes health insurance affordable while supporting the fundamental, God-given rights of the family.

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