WASHINGTON, D.C., February 13, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on Friday renewed their call on the Obama administration to rescind a controversial health care mandate requiring religious institutions to cover sterilizations, contraceptives, and abortion-inducing drugs.
President Obama revealed a so-called “accommodation” on Friday after he faced heated pressure from Catholic and Christian leaders, but the U.S. bishops say the revised rule remains an attack on religious liberty and vowed to continue fighting it “with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency.”
While the original wording would have required religious employers to pay for the objectionable coverage, the new wording requires the organization’s insurance companies to offer the coverage for free to all women no matter where they work.
Catholic and pro-life leaders immediately slammed the “accommodation,” saying it was merely repackaging the original mandate because insurance companies will simply up the employers’ fees to cover the “free” contraceptive coverage.
“The White House Fact Sheet is riddled with doublespeak and contradiction,” pro-life Rep. Chris Smith said shortly after the accomodation was announced. “It states, for example, that religious employers ‘will not’ have to pay for abortion pills, sterilization and contraception, but their ‘insurance companies’ will. Who pays for the insurance policy? The religious employer.”
The USCCB initially issued a tentative statement expressing “concern” over Obama’s new wording on Friday, but followed up with a strong denunciation later in the day.
In the second statement, they observe that President Obama’s new wording “retain[s] HHS’s nationwide mandate of insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception, including some abortifacients,” which they say “is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern.”
“We cannot fail to reiterate this, even as so many would focus exclusively on the question of religious liberty,” they add.
While the bishops indicated on Friday that Obama’s proposed new mandate “appear[s] subject to some measure of change,” Obama’s chief of staff later confirmed that it was final.
“We have set out our policy,” Jacob Lew told Fox News on Sunday. “We are going to finalize it in the final rules, but I think what the president announced on Friday is a balanced approach that meets the concerns raised both in terms of access to health care and in terms of protecting religious liberties, and we think that’s the right approach.”
Though the bishops admit the mandate is still “unclear in its details,” they say it nevertheless raises profound moral concerns.
“It would still mandate that all insurers must include coverage for the objectionable services in all the policies they would write,” they explain. “At this point, it would appear that self-insuring religious employers, and religious insurance companies, are not exempt from this mandate.”
They note also that while it would allow a religious employer to “declare that they do not offer such coverage,” the coverage offered by the insurance company would still come as part of the employer’s policy rather than as a separate rider.
“That coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer’s plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer,” they write.
They criticize it further for lacking “clear protection for key stakeholders” such as self-insured religious employers, religious and secular for-profit employers, secular non-profit employers, religious insurers, and individuals.
According to the bishops, the mandate “continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions.”
“In a nation dedicated to religious liberty as its first and founding principle, we should not be limited to negotiating within these parameters,” they continue. “The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for HHS to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.”
The bishops say they will continue to push for a solution through the other two branches of government – Congress and the courts.
“We renew our call on Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act,” the bishops write. “And we renew our call to the Catholic faithful, and to all our fellow Americans, to join together in this effort to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all.”