USCCB Pro-Life secretariat on the coming HHS mandate battle

The National Catholic Register recently published an interview with Richard Doerflinger, of the pro-life secretariat of the USCCB.  Doerflinger spoke about the post-election game plan of the USCCB.


When asked about the prospects of passing stronger conscience protection legislation, Doerflinger said:

The election left things largely as they were: We count the same number of votes in the new Senate as in the old — not in terms of party affiliation, but in terms of pro-life position.


Olympia Snowe [R-Maine], who regularly voted against our legislation, is gone. But the new Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., has almost always voted to support pro-life legislation.


The only time that a conscience measure for the mandate was considered in the Senate it got 48 votes, with very little time to explain the issues.

Getting to 50 or 51 votes in the Senate could happen, especially if you can attach legislation to a must-pass vehicle, where you have leverage to trade back and forth, to get policy riders approved. We are not giving up on that and will continue to pursue this agenda.

 Does he think that the president would sign it?

Perhaps if the alternative is to veto a bill he favors, like an entire appropriations bill. Then perhaps he would.


If the courts are continuing to bring injunctions against the mandate, the administration may not want to continue pursing 35 different lawsuits on this and will perhaps back down.


When asked what might the House of Representatives do, he answered: 

There is a continuing resolution that keeps the government funded until March. They don’t have to do the appropriations bill until then, but there are rumors that Congress and the White House — to avert the “fiscal cliff” — will have to do a deal on revenue and spending. Some would like the appropriations bill to be part of that [remedy]. Even before the end of this year, we may have a debate on this issue.


Right now, the House committee draft of the Labor/HHS appropriations bill has language like that of the Fortenberry-Blunt bill. I believe the House leadership will fight for that in negotiations with the Senate. Where that comes on the priorities list, we can’t say.


It is now becoming very clear that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay and that we really need relief. We will be urging Catholics to write to their congressional representatives in support of that provision — Section 537 of the Labor/HHS appropriations bill.


We see every reason to continue our efforts in both Congress and the courts and to continue to ask the administration to take a more flexible view of the conscience issues involved.


Speaking about the success in court of two for-profit companies and the failure of Church-affiliated lawsuits, he said:

For-profit companies said they needed it now because they are required to comply now. But religious organizations received an extra year to comply — their deadline is next August  — and so the administration has [filed papers in court that] said the issue is not ripe [for nonprofits].


This has meant that you had to lead with cases where your argument might be weakest — a for-profit company with a religious-freedom right. Yet two such cases received preliminary injunctions.


The government is arguing that if you run a business — if you are a for-profit company — you don’t have religious freedom. They call for-profit businesses “secular” companies, which seems strange in the case of a Bible publisher.


In fact, there are religious orders that sell items, from produce to jams and jellies and handmade caskets, to support themselves and make money. Does that mean they aren’t monks? Of course not.


The families that own these for-profit companies say, “We are citizens and owners of these companies, and we have a religious-freedom right. We want to run companies that are consistent with our religious beliefs.”

What about the ruling in the Missouri case, where the judge ruled that the HHS mandate did not burden the private business owner’s practice of religion?  

In First Amendment jurisprudence, the usual practice is that if someone says [a law] will burden my religion, it’s not the government’s job to start an investigation.


In a Missouri case where an injunction has been denied so far, the judge said that having to make this indirect payment to health coverage is not a substantial burden on religion.


I am not a lawyer, but I have been told by lawyers that that is an unusual statement for a judge to make in a First Amendment case. Usually, if someone says, “This burdens religion — my religion teaches against this,” it’s not the court’s job to say, “That’s not so bad.”


The government is second-guessing your theology for you. We are going to have a government definition of Catholic teaching on material cooperation? It doesn’t make any sense.


No final decisions have made in the challenges filed by for-profits in Colorado and Michigan that received preliminary injunctions against the mandate.

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