WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 29, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - As the Obama administration and the U.S. Bishops remain locked in battle over the HHS mandate, the question on the minds of many observers is: what lengths are the bishops willing to go to to oppose the mandate?

The prelates LifeSiteNews spoke to after the Vigil Mass for Life in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 24th indicated that they intend to do everything they can to oppose the mandate, including risking imprisonment if necessary.

"I would be willing to go to jail in defense of religious liberty,” said Bishop Alexander Sample of Marquette, Michigan, who was appointed Archbishop of Portland, Oregon on Jan. 29th.

He stressed that the bishops are exploring all of the options with the assistance of “sound moral theologians” to “see what is the most practical but effective way to oppose the mandate.”

“We will not simply roll over and accept the mandate,” he insisted. “We have to fight for our religious liberty and we'll take it as far as we can."

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh also said he is willing to go to jail if need be. "We can't compromise on the principles,” he told LifeSiteNews.

If it gets rough “all we have to do is look back at our history. Take a look at the saints who defended our faith and that's what it's about,” he said.

Bishop Zubik explained that he has been praying for "a conversion of heart on behalf of our president," but said “if that doesn't happen then I think it's imperative that I accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

“We have to be strong, we can't compromise, we have to stay firm on our values because I believe that this is a slippery slope,” he continued. “This is a point where we have to be ready to maintain a stand. I've taken a very strong stand on this position ever since all of this began over a year ago, and I don't intend to back down.”

Archbishop Samuel Aquila, the recently installed bishop of Denver, told LifeSiteNews after the Vigil Mass that he and many other bishops will simply refuse to cooperate if the government tries to force their hand.

“Certainly we as bishops are still considering what the options will be if it does go through,” he explained. “Many of us have already stated that we will not and cannot cooperate with the mandate.”

“There will be implications on it, whether it means narrowing some of what we do, or continue what we do and not cooperate with the mandate,” he added. “But it's a very real concern and grave concern in terms of religious freedom and freedom of conscience.”

Archbishop Aquila encouraged lay Catholics who are threatened by the mandate to follow the bishops’ lead, noting that Denver has a Catholic-owned company, Hercules Industries, that was one of the first to file suit against the Obama administration.

“I just really try to encourage Catholics: stay strong, stay firm, and continue to do what you're doing,” he said. “Continue to fight, because we as bishops can only do so much and it's going to be important for the laity to follow and to respond.”

Though all the bishops across the country have opposed the mandate, which forces employers to cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilizations, many are reluctant to speculate on how they will respond going forward.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. is one who instead has stressed that the bishops hope they can reach an agreement with the administration.

LifeSiteNews asked the Cardinal about the mandate during a media availability before the Mass for Life at the Verizon Center on Jan. 25th, the day of the March for Life.

“We are very hopeful that as time goes on and our conference continues to work with the administration, that something will allow us to continue to function as we always have, as a free entity freely exercising our ministry in our country,” he said.

Pressed about what the bishops will do if the mandate goes forward, he said, “We take this one day at a time, and I'm hopeful that we're going to be able to resolve this.”

The question of jail time in connection with the HHS mandate was raised in the national media earlier this month when Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said he had advised his bishop to “go to jail” if need be. The 2013 gubernatorial candidate said if citizens were jailed it would “provide an example of what tyranny means when it’s played to its logical conclusion.”

With files from John-Henry Westen