Medical, business workers pressured to violate consciences, speaker says
By Tanya Connor
People working in the medical and business worlds are being pressured to become like accessories to crimes. Some are fighting for their religious freedom – and yours.
Guest speaker Marie Hilliard painted this scenario for listeners as the diocese opened the Fortnight for Freedom Tuesday at St. Paul Cathedral.
“We are Catholics and we are Americans,” dismayed at being asked to choose one or the other, Bishop McManus said.
He and Ms. Hilliard stressed the importance of prayer and of refusing to give in to pressure to violate one’s conscience.
That’s what the Fortnight for Freedom is about. The U.S. Catholic bishops initiated it in 2012, in response to the mandate proposed and finalized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as part of the health care reform law dubbed Obamacare.
The HHS mandate requires employers to provide their employees with health insurance coverage that includes abortifacients, contraceptives and sterilization, which the Catholic Church opposes, or they’ll face fines.
The Fortnight takes place in dioceses nationwide from June 21, (the vigil of the feast of the martyrs Saints Thomas More and John Fisher) through July 4 (Independence Day).
The Worcester Diocese opened its fifth Fortnight Tuesday with a Mass for the Protection of Religious Freedom, celebrated by Bishop McManus and eight priests, with six permanent deacons participating.
After Mass Ms. Hilliard gave her talk about this year’s theme: Witnesses to Freedom. She holds graduate degrees in maternal-child health nursing, religious studies, canon [aw and professional higher education administration.
She is director of bioethics and public policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. The center has a free 24-hour consultation service for individuals and institutions seeking help in applying Catholic moral teaching to situations they face.
In her prepared talk, much of which she used, Ms. Hilliard talked about types of cases brought to the center: pressure on nurses to assist with or refer for abortions, students discovering their research material came from abortions, family-run businesses mandated to stock abortifacients or pay for employees’ health insurance that covers abortifacients and contraceptives.
Ms. Hilliard used these examples, which she said are not infrequent, to show violations of religious liberty and the immorality of cooperating, in one way or another, with unethical practices.
There is a terrible misunderstanding about separation of Church and state, she said. She said the First Amendment says there will be no government-established religion and also that there will be no law restricting the free exercise of religion, which applies to living out one’s faith in the public arena.
But people are sometimes pressured to cooperate in some way with what they oppose, purportedly to respect others’ autonomy rights, Ms. Hilliard said. She said in criminal law that would be called being an accessory. It would be like telling a judge you were not culpable for supplying a mass murderer with what he needed to commit his crimes.
A bill before the United States Senate (S. 2960) would penalize pharmacists $1,000 a day if they refuse to dispense Plan B, a “morning-after pill” which sometimes functions as an abortifacient, she said. She said the bill says the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be invoked.
Five states require pharmacists to fill any legally written prescription, Ms. Hilliard said. And the American Medical Association’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution in 2008 stating that it supports legislation that would require pharmacists to fill such prescriptions or make referrals to pharmacies that do.
Twenty states, including Massachusetts, require emergency rooms to administer Plan B to sexual assault victims, Ms. Hilliard said. She said Catholic hospitals will do so if they can determine that it will not be given at a time when it would cause an abortion.
Another issue affecting businesses and employers is the HHS mandate. Ms. Hilliard and Bishop McManus both talked about the Little Sisters of the Poor, who care for the elderly poor and who were among those challenging the HHS mandate.
Ms. Hilliard told listeners that those suing the federal government about the HHS mandate are fighting not just for their own religious freedom, but for “yours.” She told them if their health insurance covers things they oppose, their children and grandchildren could have access to those things.
The bishop said the Little Sisters were supported by others’ prayers and a visit by Pope Francis renewed their hope. Their hope was not disappointed, he said, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court gave them a favorable ruling.
“Such is the power of prayer and that is why we gather in this Cathedral Church tonight: to pray and to renew our faith that ‘for those who love God, everything works together for good’ (Rm 8:28)” he said.
Ms. Hilliard urged listeners to pray and not be silenced. She said resources to help them speak out are available from U.S. bishops’ website www.usccb.org and the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.
Catholics don’t live in a Catholic conclave, she said.
“We have to be in the world,” she said. That’s the message of Jesus.