WASHINGTON, DC, October 13, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Twenty leading Catholic organizations, including the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Relief Services, as well as two top bishops, this week protested a mandate that is part of the Obama heath reform law that will force most employers, including Catholic colleges and hospitals, to pay for contraception, including abortifacient “emergency” contraception, and sterilizations.

The leaders of the organizations, which together represent millions of constituents, called on Congress to reform the health care mandate to protect conscience rights through an ad printed in two Capitol Hill newspapers this week.

The ad follows a letter signed by 18 Catholic colleges and universities to the Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) last month appealing for a broader religious exemption in the mandate.

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The recent statement, which appeared Tuesday in Politico and The Hill, added several prominent voices to the chorus of disapproval, including Catholic University of America President John Garvey and University of Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins.

Episcopal signatories were Most Rev. Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB); and Most Rev. Jose Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles and Chairman of the USCCB’s Migration Relief Services.

The statement argued that the mandate would actually have the effect of limiting access to health care by forcing Catholic organizations that provide health care services to choose between violating their conscience or curtailing their operations.

“The HHS mandate puts many faith-based organizations and individuals in an untenable position,” the ad read. “But it also harms society as a whole by undermining a long American tradition of respect for religious liberty and freedom of conscience.”

The statement concluded: “We ask Congress, the Administration, and our fellow Americans to acknowledge this truth and work with us to reform the law accordingly.”

While the ad was not specific about proposed legislative remedies, the USCCB is supporting the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, a bill which would broaden the religious exemption in Obama’s health care policy and ensure protection for religious employers. 

According to a statement on the USCCB’s website, many of the signatories on Tuesday’s statement represented Catholic organizations that would be affected by the Administration’s policy since they may not qualify as “religious employers” under the strict definition laid out in the HHS mandate.

Organizations represented in the letter included the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Peter Claver, Alliance of Catholic Health Care, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, National Council of the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul, National Catholic Bioethics Center, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Medical Association, University of Notre Dame, National Council of Catholic Women, Catholic Volunteer Network, National Catholic Partnership on Disability, National Catholic Educational Association, Knights of Peter Claver Ladies Auxiliary, Catholic Charities USA, and Catholic Daughters of the Americas.