The Catholic Bishops of the United States are reportedly furious over what they call the “literally unconscionable” decision by the Obama Administration to require that contraception be included in virtually all health plans provided by religious-affiliated institutions to their employees.
The announcement means that the mandate and its narrow exemption will not change. Rather, there will be a delay in enforcement against some employers.
“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Dolan added, “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.”
PR Newswire adds:
The HHS rule requires that sterilization and contraception — including controversial abortifacients — be included among “preventive services” coverage in almost every healthcare plan available to Americans. “The government should not force Americans to act as if pregnancy is a disease to be prevented at all costs,” added Cardinal-designate Dolan.
At issue, the U.S. bishops and other religious leaders insist, is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for the conscience of Catholics and all other Americans.
“This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights,” said Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairperson of the board at Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals. “I have hundreds of employees who will be upset and confused by this edict. I cannot understand it at all.”
“The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand,” Dolan said. “The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation. We will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision.”
As AP reports, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius conceded that nonprofit institutions such as church-affiliated hospitals, colleges and social service agencies will have one additional year to comply with the requirement, issued in regulations under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
“I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” Sebelius said in a statement.
Yet the concession was unlikely to stop a determined effort by opponents to block or overturn the rule. If they fail, some predicted that religious employers would simply drop coverage for their workers, opting instead to pay fines to the federal government under the health care law.
“Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” said Dolan. “This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”
Officials said the administration’s ruling was carefully considered, after reviewing more than 200,000 comments from interested parties and the public. The one-year extension, they said, responds to concerns raised by religious employers about making adjustments. Administration officials stressed that individual decisions about whether or not to use birth control, and what kind, remain in the hands of women and their doctors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Bold emphasis added by The Blaze.