In August of 2009, the Catholic bishops of all five dioceses in Wisconsin wrote a letter sharing their “deep concern” about a provision in the new state budget that would require providers of health insurance to include contraceptive services as a “mandated benefit.”
The bishops were concerned because this mandate would “compel Catholic dioceses, parishes, and other agencies that buy health insurance to pay for a medical service that Catholic teaching holds to be gravely immoral.”
They went on to explain that “contraception prevents the full and reciprocal self‐giving that is essential to Christian marriage and diminishes the role of God, the giver of life, within marriage.”
Only dioceses or agencies that are self insured, such as the La Crosse and Superior dioceses, are not covered by this mandate.
Insensitivity to religious and moral values
The bishops said forcefully, “As Catholic teachers and pastors, we strongly object to this blatant insensitivity to our moral values and legal rights.”
They pointed out that Wisconsin is now one of only a few states where the mandate fails to accommodate those whose religious or moral values are compromised by it.
“This mandate violates not just our religious values, but also our constitutional rights. The right of conscience established in the Wisconsin Constitution protects the minority from the majority. That is to say, it protects all of us. For in our pluralistic society, every person, whatever his or her faith, is a member of a religious minority,” the bishops said.
“The constitutional right to religious freedom embraces more than just the right to hold private beliefs and affirm personal values. Such freedom also includes the ability to bear public witness to our values — by what we do and what we decline to do. It is such witness that changes hearts and transforms culture.”
Law adopted without open debate
As citizens, the Catholic bishops also objected to the manner in which this law was adopted. “Mandates of this kind deserve open debate and due deliberation. This mandate received neither. Processes consistent with open government permit competing arguments at public hearings. This process did not.”
The Diocese of Madison had looked into self-insurance options but found them too costly. The diocese felt it was a matter of justice to provide affordable access to quality health care for those who work for the Church.
While being mandated to offer contraceptives as of August 1, the Diocese of Madison hopes its employees will follow Church teaching and not use them. One might even question whether contraceptives should be considered “health care”; in past years, it seemed as if birth control was considered an option to be paid for by those using it and not covered by insurance plans.
The state of Wisconsin should change this law to allow for the right of conscience of employers such as the Diocese of Madison not to be forced to provide a benefit which violates its religious and moral values.
Concerned Catholics should contact their state legislators asking them to amend the law to provide conscience protection for the Church.