March 5, 2012

OTTAWA – A fiery debate over contraception and religious freedom has pitted the U.S. Catholic bishops against President Obama's health care policy, but a Canadian Catholic health expert said such a debate is unlikely in Canada.

The U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate would force all Catholic institutions, such as universities, hospitals and charities, to offer insurance to employees that offers contraception, including abortifacients, and sterilization.

Catholics from across the political spectrum have opposed the move, calling it an infringement of the American Constitution's religious freedom clause.

Obama has since offered a compromise by putting the onus on insurance providers to offer contraception to individual employees of Catholic institutions free of charge.

Some Catholic groups, such as the Catholic Health Association of the United States have accepted the compromise, but most U.S. bishops have not.

The Canadian health care system is much different, with health care provincially administered, said Catholic Health Alliance of Canada executive director James Roche.

Catholic hospitals and other health care institutions have entered into agreements with the provincial government so that they are not forced to perform abortions, sterilizations, in vitro fertilization or other procedures that are contrary to Catholic teachings, he said.

In Canada, he said, no Catholic institution can be compelled to do things contrary to its mission and values.

But as hospitals specialize and amalgamate, Catholic institutions might end up sending someone to another institution for care the Catholic facility does not provide, he said.

Family physician Dr. Barbara Powell said Canadian taxpayers do not pay for all contraception, though birth control pills and other forms of contraception are provided to women on social assistance, and are available free through many clinics. Many doctors hand out free samples.

"Any resourceful woman in Ontario can obtain free contraception," Powell said.

Letter to the Editor - 03/26/12