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Professor discusses PPACA ethics

Jessica Stoller-Conrad | Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The federal mandate requiring that group health plans cover preventative healthcare — including contraceptives — has ethical implications for religiously affiliated employers such as Notre Dame, law professor O. Carter Snead said at his Tuesday lecture,

“Understanding the PPACA ‘Contraceptive’ Mandate.”

“As a matter of moral teaching, the Church opposes the use of artificial contraception,” Snead said. “A religious concern that has been raised … is Catholic institutions objecting to the mandatory coverage without cost-sharing of contraception and sterilization.”

While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is vague when describing which procedures require employer coverage, the Health Resources and Services Administration later specified that all FDA-approved contraceptives and sterilization procedures were included, Snead said.

Snead said additional ethical challenges apply to the coverage of contraceptive drugs with “abortifacient properties,” acting as contraceptives with the potential of terminating pregnancy in the embryonic stage.

While certain exemptions exist, they are too narrow to apply to many institutions, including Notre Dame, Snead said.

“There is an exemption for certain kinds of entities [such as religious organizations] that would not be subject to this mandate,” he said. “[Narrow restrictions] eliminate virtually every Catholic institution in America from this exemption, except for Churches proper and religious orders.”

Snead said some influential progressive Catholics supported the PPACA but were predominantly opposed to the narrowness of the exemptions.

“[Catholic progressive leaders] showed near-unanimous opposition to the narrowness of the mandate exemption,” he said.

The mandate drew attention on campus in September when University President Rev. John Jenkins publicly requested Notre Dame be exempted from the contraception measure, Snead said.

Snead read an excerpt from Jenkins’ request letter highlighting the University’s dilemma.

“The regulation would compel Notre Dame to pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the Church’s social teaching, or to discontinue employee and student healthcare plans, in violation of the Church’s social teaching, thus putting us in an impossible position,” the letter stated.

Because this mandate is already law, it would have to be overturned or changed in order to loosen the exemption regulations. Snead said.

“The positive sign … is that there is bipartisan opposition to the regulations,” he said.

Snead said the complexity of the issue lies in the disparity between how the two sides approach the nature of contraception.

“Supporters believe that contraception is a matter of public health, but religious conscientious objections are a private matter,” Snead said.