Bacon, Blood, And Freedom

Little Sisters of the Poor, Screen shot

Janet A. Morana Executive Director, Priests for Life
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Imagine if, after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was signed into law, the Department of Health and Human Services decided to add a clause mandating that to receive health insurance, every adult in the United States would have to donate blood.

Blood donation is a wonderful, selfless and life-saving action, so compelling all adult Americans to do it should be no big deal. Right?


The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not donate blood or accept donated blood. That is a tenet of their religion. Some of the bureaucrats in the federal government might scratch their heads and wonder why, but one reason they likely would not impose that mandate is because in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses it would be a violation of their right to practice their religion.

And in the light of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, government may not substantially burden a person’s freedom to practice his or her religion unless it is the least restrictive means of advancing a compelling government interest.

Now imagine that every hospital in the country was put on notice that to continue receiving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement, they must serve bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches to their patients and make them available in their cafeterias. Jewish hospitals would refuse outright because pork products are not kosher and many Jews would never consider eating, or serving, a BLT.

If the government imposed such a mandate, people would wonder if bureaucrats have too much time on their hands. No court would uphold such an obviously discriminatory mandate.

For Catholics and many Christians, the HHS mandate that declares religious non-profit groups must provide contraceptive and abortion-causing drugs and devices to their employees is as outrageous and strange as the two examples above. That is why Priests for Life petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court with our case Priests for Life vs. HHS (one of seven consolidated cases in Zubik vs. Burwell). Along with many other faith-based non-profits across the country, we are being told to set aside our deeply held religious convictions against contraception and abortion in order to march in lock step with the administration’s goal of fostering more contraception and abortion.

The HHS mandate – which is an administrative act of HHS, not a law passed by Congress – is often called the contraception mandate. But it would be more accurate to label it the abortion mandate, because emergency contraception, IUDs and even the Pill can put a halt to the development of a new life after fertilization has already occurred. That’s an abortion — a very early one, to be sure, but just as effective at snuffing out human life as a suction abortion or other methods.

In National Geographic’s ground-breaking film “In the Womb,” we learn that at the moment of conception, every human being’s unique DNA is established. This new genetic structure, we are told, represents “a unique human signature that never existed before and will never be repeated.” At the moment of conception, we already are who we will become.

The Catholic Church opposes both artificial contraception and abortion, which is why so many Catholic organizations have filed legal challenges to the mandate, and why the majority of the petitioners in Zubik vs. Burwell are Catholic. 

At Priests for Life, we of course oppose contraception and when they are hired, our employees know full well that abortion, abortifacient drugs and devices and contraceptives are not covered under our health insurance. They do not want this coverage.

The very reason we exist, though, is to work to end abortion, even the very earliest ones. So for the government to tell us that we have to be involved in providing to our employees the drugs and devices that will put an end to the development of these unique, human individuals, we have no choice but to refuse.

Right now our case and those of the other Zubik petitioners have been sent back to federal appeals courts with the Supreme Court instructing them to give the parties time to reach an agreement. We are waiting, then, for the government to issue its next version of the HHS mandate. Given that the Supreme Court wrote in its Zubik decision that the administration agreed that it’s “feasible” to create a mandate accommodation that doesn’t violate our religious liberty, we are cautiously hopeful that after over four years of litigation, the government will finally respect our rights.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for our organization and our employees. But as our national director, Father Frank Pavone, and I have said many times, we will not obey any mandate that would cause us to disobey God. We believe that the “unique human signature that never existed before” has an inalienable right to life.