Obama officials send mixed messages on reconsidering birth control mandate
NEW YORK, February 7, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Even as other Obama officials defended the birth control mandate’s narrow religious exemption against a rash of criticism, one top White House advisor has feinted towards a possible revisiting of the issue by the administration.
“I think we need to lower our voices and get together,” said Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Tuesday.
“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms, so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,” he said, adding that the administration aims to resolve the issue in “an appropriate way.”
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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who last week had similarly claimed officials “will continue to work with religious groups” to address concerns, on Monday nonetheless took a strong stance defending the mandate. “These services are important,” said Carney. “American women deserve to have access to that kind of insurance coverage regardless of where they work.”
Nearly every Catholic bishop in the United States and even liberal Catholic commentators expressed disapproval and bewilderment after Obama officials announced last month that the mandate, which would require religious schools, hospitals, and charities to cover even abortifacient birth control free of copay, would go into effect next year.
Two days ago, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius wrote an article titled “Our Rule Respects Religion” in USA Today defending the exemption of religious houses of worship as already in practice in such states as California, Oregon, and New York.
“This is not an easy issue. But by carving out an exemption for religious organizations based on policies already in place, we are working to strike the right balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing women’s access to critical preventive health services,” she wrote.
USA Today issued its own editorial disagreeing with Sebelius, saying that in terms of the boundaries of religious affairs, “the Obama administration didn’t just cross that line. It galloped over it.” “The administration tried to strike a balance and simply failed,” wrote the editors.
Bill Donohue of the Catholic League said Sebelius’ facile treatment of the conflict was “an insult.”
“Secretary Sebelius knows very well that Catholic agencies have a long and distinguished record of hiring and serving non-Catholics,” said Donohue in a statement Monday, “so to say that they can only qualify for an exemption by turning away those who are not Catholic from Catholic schools, hospitals, hospices, orphanages, shelters for battered women, and the like, is a plea for discrimination and an insult to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.”
Donohue also said that Sebelius was “wrong to say that the administration’s rule is identical to that of states like California.” “As Carol Hogan of the California Catholic Conference said last week, her state’s rule is not identical,” he said. “Moreover, in states like Wisconsin, which are weighing various options on extending exemptions to religious entities, they are in a holding pattern until it is clear how Obamacare flushes out nationally.”
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