Kathleen Gilbert

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Notre Dame prez to Obama on contraception mandate: what happened to the ‘sensible approach’?

Kathleen Gilbert
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NOTRE DAME, Indiana, September 29, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - As the Obama administration prepares to force all Catholic employers in the United States to cover contraception, including abortifacient drugs like Plan B and Ella, the president of the University of Notre Dame is asking what happened to the “cooperation and understanding” between ideological opponents that Obama urged during his commencement speech at the university two years ago.

The new regulations announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on August 1, which are part of the new health law, will mandate that private insurers cover sterilizations and FDA-approved birth control, including drugs that function by causing early abortions, without co-pay.

The regulations include a “conscience clause” that defines religious employers as those that “primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets,” a definition that excludes nearly all major Catholic organizations, including universities. Comment from the public on the new regulations is being accepted until tomorrow.

Obama had told Notre Dame graduates in May 2009: “Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.”

Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins, the enthusiastic host of Obama’s speech and honorary law degree at the prestigious Catholic institution, has penned a letter to Sebelius dated September 28 expressing concern at the disparity in Obama’s words and the impending mandate.

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“May I suggest that this is not the kind of ‘sensible’ approach the president had in mind when he spoke here,” wrote Jenkins in a Sept 28 letter to Sebelius, calling the provision “narrower than any conscience clause ever enacted in federal law.”

He noted that, instead of being drafted from federal law, the regulation clause is drawn from the narrowest known state definition of “religious employer,” which only three states use.

The university president said that he “still stand[s] by that decision” to invite the deeply pro-abortion president, despite the opposition of over 300,000 petitioning Catholics and 80 active U.S. bishops. However, he observed that under the new regulations, Notre Dame would be forced to “offer our students sterilization procedures and prescription contraceptives, including pills that act after fertilization to induce abortions, and to offer such services in our employee health plans.”

“This would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the Church’s moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and students health care plans in violation of the Church’s social teaching,” wrote the priest. “It is an impossible position.”

Jenkins urged that the conscience protections be rewritten according to the “church plan” exemption found in section 414(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, which he notes “was developed specifically to avoid church-state entanglements in religious governance” relative to health plans.

In addition to the pending contraceptive mandate, in February 2011 Obama repealed a conscience regulation dating from the Bush administration that protected the conscience rights of health care providers opposed to providing abortifacient contraception, such as the Plan-B “morning-after” pill.

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