The following editorial appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. It was written by John F. Fink, editor emeritus.

As we await the hearings before the U.S. Supreme Court of two cases concerning what has become known as the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate, we thought it important to note some of the things involved in the cases. They involve people who own businesses, Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties, but the mandate ordered by the Health and Human Services Department has the possibility of severely damaging the poor.

By now it should be clear that Pope Francis continues to emphasize the Catholic Church’s obligation to serve the poor.

What Catholic religious institutions have in common with the two businesses is that they all, for conscience reasons, refuse to pay for health insurance for their employees that includes contraceptives, sterilizations, or drugs that cause abortions. If they continue to refuse to do so, though, they will be subject to tremendous fines.


The Little Sisters of the Poor in Denver were in the news when, on New Year’s Eve, Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a stay of a lower court’s order to comply with the mandate, temporarily exempting the sisters. Then, on Jan. 24, the Supreme Court affirmed Justice Sotomayor’s order.

The Little Sisters of the Poor have 29 homes for the elderly poor in the United States, including a small home in Denver, with 69 residents. If the sisters continue to refuse to carry out the mandate, which they will, they will be forced to pay fines each year of $2.5 million. Their total operating budget is $6 million.

The fines are calculated at $100 per day, or $36,000 per year, per employee.

We mention the Little Sisters because they have been in the news. But the same fines will be required of many Catholic institutions. That’s why more than 90 lawsuits have been filed by some 300 institutions, with mixed results so far.

Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik has said that Catholic Charities in Pittsburgh could lose more than a third of its $10 million annual budget to fines. Multiply that by the amount of fines that will be levied against all Catholic institutions that refuse to comply with the mandate, and you can imagine how that is going to affect their programs for the poor.

This isn’t what you’d expect from a Democratic administration. Surely President Barack Obama doesn’t mean to hurt the poor, but he is determined to force religious institutions to fall in line with his ideology. He and his supporters consider contraception as preventive medicine, as helping women improve their health care, and this trumps any religious objections.

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, continues to try to persuade President Obama to provide relief for Catholic organizations. In a letter to the president, Archbishop Kurtz pointed out that canceling health insurance for employees would cost only $2,000 per employee. “In effect,” he said, “the government seems to be telling employees that they are better off with no employer health plan at all than with a plan that does not cover contraceptives.”

Most stories in the media, even some in Catholic media, say that the HHS mandate requires insurance that covers contraception without mentioning that the coverage must also cover drugs that cause abortion by preventing the implantation of an embryo in the womb. Even those who see nothing wrong with contraception should object to killing embryos.

In an article in the Jan. 19 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, Russell Shaw reminded his readers that, before the Affordable Health Care Act was passed in 2010, President Obama, in order to secure the votes of some pro-life Democrats, signed an executive order that stated that elective abortions would not be part of the program. So much for that pledge.

Shaw ended his article by saying, “Speaking last April to a Planned Parenthood conference, Obama declared with pride that the abortion movement’s cherished right to choose abortion was part of Obamacare. In that, he spoke the truth.”


The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of, Catholic News Service or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.