Co-authored with John Jalsevac

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 16, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – In a move that is likely to reignite the ire of religious leaders, late Friday afternoon the Obama administration announced a proposal that would require universities, including religious universities, to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs to their students, as well as their employees, without a co-pay. This appears to significantly widen the originally-announced HHS mandate, which had only applied to employees.

The White House released the 32-page proposal late Friday afternoon. It outlines three different options to ensure that the health plans for employees and students of religious organizations cover birth control, including abortifacient drugs, and sterilizations, without co-pay.

The proposal, particularly the widening of the mandate to cover students, was met with simultaneous statements of support from members of the abortion lobby.

“Women who buy health insurance from their college or university will have access to affordable birth control, just like women who receive health insurance from their employer,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in an online press release.

“Covering birth control with no co-pays means college students will not have to choose between paying for tuition and books, or paying for basic health care like birth control.”

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“Today the Obama administration took the next step in making sure women get insurance coverage of contraception,” agreed Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“Unfortunately, some politicians and their allies want to take away contraceptive coverage from nurses, janitors, administrative staff, and college instructors,” Keenan said. “They risk losing even more public support if they continue to politicize women’s health through legislative attacks or mean-spirited and disparaging rhetoric on talk radio or in other channels.”

As has happened in the case of announcements from the Obama administration about its birth control mandate in the past, supporters of the mandate issued laudatory statements immediately following the release of the proposal, while opponents were left scrambling trying to make sense of it.

LifeSiteNews.com spoke to a media spokesperson at Alliance Defense Fund, a legal organization that has been leading the charge against the Obama admin’s mandate. The spokesperson explained that ADF attorneys were still sifting through today’s document and weren’t yet prepared to comment.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said she found it unusual the announcement came as part of a Friday news dump on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day.

“I am surprised that such important information would be announced late Friday of St. Patrick’s Day Weekend and as we prepare for the fourth Sunday of Lent,” she said.

“The bishops will begin analyzing it immediately but now is too soon to know what it actually says. The bishops will consider how the proposal gels with the principles outlined in United for Religious Liberty, the statement that the USCCB Administrative Committee issued March 14.”

Both she and Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, declined to offer any further statement to media Friday afternoon, saying they needed more time to study the proposal.

Sr. Keehan’s silence stands in sharp contrast to her prior knowledge and endorsement of the president’s February 10 “accommodation.”

The public may comment on this proposal for the next 90 days.

Comments may be sent via snail mail to:

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Department of Health and Human Services
Attention: CMS-9968-ANPRM
P.O. Box 8016
Baltimore, MD 21244-1850.