- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

Last week the D.C. Council struck a blow for religious intolerance by imposing on Roman Catholics an obligation in complete violation of church doctrine. Specifically, the legislation would require all health insurance plans covering the cost of prescription drugs including plans at Roman Catholic institutions to provide insurance that covers the cost of health insurers to pay for contraceptives. Such contraceptives include controversial intrauterine devices and morning-after pills, which effectively "abort" embryos. Publicly, the mayor, who is Roman Catholic, has not spoken much about the legislation, but he is expected to do so today during a panel discussion on health care for the uninsured.

The District joins several states that have passed similar legislation in recent years. Catholics and others are dismayed that it failed to include a "conscience clause" that would exempt certain religious employers, such as Catholic and Georgetown universities. Other states have such clauses. Why not D.C.?

Underscoring the moral dilemma posed by the legislation were the defiant and religiously insensitive remarks made during council debate by D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who is gay. "I am," Mr. Graham said, "very concerned about having religious principles impact public health policy. Are we going to say we are going to defer to Rome in terms of our views?" His comments were obviously a reaction to the pope's recent criticism of homosexuality as "contrary to natural law."

Now, ordinarily Congress takes a wait-and-see attitude toward most of the District's lawmaking decisions. The health care bill, though, drew immediate criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike, said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Northern Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on the District. "There is no way this ordinance is going to fly on Capitol Hill in its current form," said Mr. Davis, a Christian Scientist. "I think the city has overstepped its bounds." The insurance industry warns, further, that the mandate will raise the cost of coverage.

The 13-member D.C. Council unanimously approved the legislation, and lawmakers say support remains strong enough to overturn a veto from Mayor Williams. Still, the bill must also be approved by the control board and by Congress, where Democrats and Republicans have historically barred the District from using local and federal funds to fund abortions except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.

Someone with the conscience that the D.C. Council lacks should stop this legislation. Mr. Williams could and should demonstrate his by vetoing it.

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