ST. FRANCIS — The Jan. 20 Department of Health and Human Services mandate requiring health plans to cover contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs free of charge has united individual Catholics and organizations in its opposition.
Dr. Cynthia Jones-Nosacek, a member of St. Peter and Paul Parish, Milwaukee, feels this is only the beginning.
“By making organizations act in ways against their conscience, the next thing is going to be they’re going to force doctors to act in ways against their conscience,” Dr. Jones-Nosacek said. “I love practicing medicine and the thought that someone’s going to come in and say, ‘You have to do something and I don’t care if you think it’s morally wrong, you still have to do it,’ frightens me.”
The mandate doesn’t exempt Catholic charities, schools, universities or hospitals.
Dr. Jones-Nosacek, a graduate of Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, has practiced medicine for 28 years and doesn’t provide or refer patients who want contraceptives, sterilization or abortions.
She said the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists has stated if a doctor wishes not to participate in abortions, he or she must practice alongside someone who will. But she refuses to go along with the ACOG.
“Even if we don’t do abortions, we’re still part of it, part of that woman’s abortion because we refer her,” Dr. Jones-Nosacek said. “It’s really no different than somebody who drives the get-away car in a robbery. We say they’re still responsible for whatever happens at that robbery.”
Dr. Jones-Nosacek said she knows doctors who won’t refer patients to other doctors for abortions and contraceptives, and despite her concern, doesn’t think any legal action will come against the doctors who refuse to obey the mandate.
“I don’t think we’ll necessarily go to jail over it,” she said. “But they will try to destroy our reputation, they will try to take our licenses away, they’ll destroy my livelihood.”
Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, a ministry of the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters, did not provide these benefits before and is now waiting to see if it will be successfully challenged. Among the Wisconsin facilities that Wheaton operates are All Saints Hospital, Racine; St. Francis and St. Joseph hospitals, Milwaukee; Elmbrook Memorial, Brookfield; an urgent care facility in Franklin and the Wisconsin Heart Hospital in Wauwatosa.
“We were extremely disappointed with the decision by DHHS to not expand the definition of religious employer to include other Catholic organizations like Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare,” Melissa Di Motto, manager of communication and public relations for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, said in an email. “We will continue to support the work of the Catholic Health Association, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, and others to develop strategies to deal with the administration’s action and explore possible ways to remedy the rule.”
Di Motto said the cost for providing the additional benefits has yet to be determined.
Other organizations, such as Catholic Charities, have invested a lot of time to prevent this mandate from happening.
Jim Brennan, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, attended, along with several other Catholic Charities leaders across the nation, a conference in Washington D.C. in October 2011 to speak on policy issues that would affect them.
“We certainly thought that we had made out a group to carve out an exemption for Catholic Charities, as an organization, so that Catholic Charities can be treated as a religious employer,” Brennan said.
Brennan said he and Catholic Charities will continue to encourage individuals to contact their legislators to protest the mandate.
“We are now facing a very difficult set of choices,” Brennan says. “We’re faced with the requirement of having a insurance policy, in fact, that violates our conscience as employers, Catholic employers.”
Brennan added that he believes many women in Catholic Charities will object to the mandated coverage.
“I do not expect Catholic Charities will comply with the rule that causes us to violate our conscience,” Brennan said. “We will continue to look for ways to provide health care to our employees but we must do so in a principled way.”
Dr. Jones-Nosacek said the Obama administration has been attacking religious liberty more than any other administration since she became a doctor. She said the administration allows people to practice their religion but (we) are “not free to express our values in the public square.”
The USCCB released a statement Feb. 6 regarding its opposition to the mandate.
“These institutions are vital to the mission of the church but HHS (health and human services) does not deem them ‘religious employers’ worth of conscience protection, because they do not ‘serve primarily persons who share the(ir) religious tenets,’” the statement said. “Under the mandate, the government forces religious insurers to write policies that violate their beliefs; forces religious employers and schools to sponsor and subsidize coverage that violates their beliefs; and forces religious employees and students to purchase coverage that violates their beliefs.”
The statement mentions that other religious groups, i.e., Protestant Christian, Orthodox Christian and Orthodox Jewish, oppose the mandate, despite not opposing contraception.
John Marek, The Archdiocese of Milwaukeee’s treasurer/chief financial officer, said the archdiocese urges those who oppose the mandate to contact their U.S. senators and representaives. He said the archdiocese is waiting to see what will happen in the next year.
“With the implementation delayed for a year, there’s time for us to see what Congress might do to make a change or whether the administration might make a change or whether a legal challenge would lead to a change,” Marek said.
Until that time, issues between Catholics in the health care field and patients seeking this type of care will continue to clash.
Dr. Jones-Nosacek said that, as a doctor, when she took the Hippocratic Oath and swore not to kill a patient by abortion or euthanasia, she meant it more than most doctors today.
“This is something I feel very strongly about, that I won’t be part of this,” Dr. Jones-Nosacek said.
“The fact is a lot of doctors haven’t taken the Hippocratic Oath or they scribble that stuff out of it,” Dr. Jones-Nosacek said. “The oath I took said I will not do those things and I plan to keep that promise.”
She emphasized that organizations must be firm in opposing the mandate.
“If the Catholic organizations cave in, then they’ll go after the doctors,” Dr. Jones-Nosacek said. “And if anyone caves, then we’ll have no protection either.”