WASHINGTON, D.C., September 23, 2011 ( – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is urging Catholics around the country to join the fight against the new birth control mandate, which they say presents an enormous threat to the conscience rights of America’s religious employers and insurance customers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced in August that virtually all private health insurers would be forced to fully cover all FDA-approved birth control drugs, including drugs that can kill a newly-conceived child, as an essential “preventive service.”

“Pregnancy is not a disease, and drugs and surgeries to prevent it are not basic health care that the government should require all Americans to purchase,” states the USCCB’s draft petition for citizens to send to federal health officials. “It is especially important to exclude any drug that may cause an early abortion, and to fully respect religious freedom as other federal laws do. The narrow religious exemption in HHS’s new rule protects almost no one.”

Citizens have until September 30 to comment on the new regulation.

A bill to implement adequate conscience protections, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, has 44 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, but has lain dormant since the spring. A Senate version was introduced last month by three Republican lawmakers. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo has urged passage of the bill, and the bishops conference is asking Catholics to urge their congressmen to support it.

The mandate’s current conscience clause, according to U.S. bishops, amounts to little more than a fig leaf: the clause would only allow an opt-out for religious employers who employ and serve solely members of their own religion.

“Health and Human Services must think Catholics and other religious groups are fools,” USCCB Communications Director Sr. Mary Ann Walsh wrote in August. “HHS’s reg[ulation] conveniently ignores the underlying principle of Catholic charitable actions: we help people because we are Catholic, not because our clients are.”

The fact that the FDA has approved as “birth control” drugs such as Ella, which is in the same chemical family as abortion drug RU-486, has heightened the alarm of leaders who say the faithful will be forced to participate in murder.

“The pro-life majority of Americans – Catholics and others – would be outraged to learn that their premiums must be used for this purpose,” said Cardinal DiNardo last month.