The archdiocese of New York has been paying for the supply of contraception and abortion services to thousands of its unionized employees for over a decade according to a new report.
Some 3,000 full-time workers at ArchCare, also known as the Catholic Health Care System, receive coverage for contraception and voluntary pregnancy termination through their membership in 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a powerful health care workers union.
Cardinal Dolan has spearheaded the fight against a provision of the new healthcare law that requires employers, including some that are religiously affiliated, to cover birth control in employee health plans.
He insists that requiring some religiously affiliated employers to pay for contraception and abortion services would be an unprecedented, and intolerable, government intrusion on religious liberty.
But his own diocese has been paying for such coverage for thousands of its unionized employees for over a decade.
The report adds that Archdiocese of New York has previously acknowledged that some local Catholic institutions offer health insurance plans that include contraceptive drugs to comply with state law; now, it is also acknowledging that the archdiocese’s own money is used to pay for a union health plan that covers contraception and even abortion for workers at its affiliated nursing homes and clinics.
Spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York Joseph Zwilling said: “We provide the services under protest.”
The confirmation comes as Cardinal Dolan consistently rejects compromises offered by the Obama administration to exempt many religious institutions from the provision.
Last February, the American bishops opposed a proposal that would have allowed employees of those non-exempt religious institutions to receive contraceptive coverage through policies paid for directly by insurance companies.
The report adds that New York Archdiocese is also suing the federal government to stop the mandate.
Cardinal Dolan said then: “There remains the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities.” said at the time.
The current process whereby the archdiocese covers its own health workers came into effect long before Cardinal Dolan became Archbishop of New York.
ArchCare operates seven nursing homes and a variety of other health facilities and gives its 1199 union employees the same coverage they would get at over 100 other non-profit hospitals or nursing homes in the New York area.
That’s ArchCare voluntarily belongs to the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes, a multi-employer organization that negotiates with the union every few years for a joint labor contract.
Bruce McIver, the president of the league since 1991, told the New York Times that he recalled that some Catholic organizations had expressed concern about paying for the contraception benefits in the mid- to late 1990s.
He said: “In recent years, as the number of Catholic hospitals in the city dwindled, they just kind of stopped, from my perspective, paying attention to this issue.
“Eventually, the Catholics just said, you know, we are going to ignore the issue and pay into the fund and people are going to make their own choices about contraception and so forth.
“During union negotiations, I don’t remember it coming up in the last dozen years or so, ever. In a place like New York, their employees, not all of whom are Catholic, would react pretty badly.”
The report outlines how ArchCare, like other employers in the league, does not directly pay for the coverage. Instead, employers contribute to the union’s National Benefits Fund, in amounts equal to roughly 25 percent of each employee’s base pay; that money is used to pay for the insurance coverage. It is not known how many ArchCare workers actually use the disputed services.
Zwilling, the spokesman for the New York archdiocese, said that Cardinal John J. O’Connor and the archdiocese ‘objected to these services’ being included in the National Benefit Fund’s health insurance plan’ when joining the league in the 1990s.
He added: “But the cardinal then decided there was no other option if the Catholic Church was to continue to provide health care to these union-affiliated employees in the city of New York.”
He added that since 2002 other New York Catholic agencies with standard commercial insurance have been subject to a state mandate to provide contraceptive services.
He said: “Fordham University, for example, covers contraception for employees and students. But rather than nullify the issue, in fact, these rare exceptional concessions have made the bishops even more aware of the gravity of the situation and lead to the attempt to remedy the matter on a national level.”