Catholic bishops reject Obama offer on contraceptive coverage

WASHINGTON Fri Feb 8, 2013 10:49am EST

President Barack Obama speaks during the House Democratic Issues Conference in Lansdowne, Virginia, February 7, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Barack Obama speaks during the House Democratic Issues Conference in Lansdowne, Virginia, February 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Roman Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the Obama Administration's latest bid for compromise over a hotly disputed health policy that requires employees at religiously affiliated institutions to have access to insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said his group would redouble efforts to reach an agreement on the contraceptives issue after more than a year of protest and scores of federal lawsuits from Catholics groups and other social conservatives.

But the cardinal, one of the most prominent voices in the American Catholic Church, said new federal rules proposed last week offer only "second-class status" to church-affiliated universities, hospitals and charities by failing to grant them the same full exemption afforded to houses of worship.

"These ministries are integral to our Church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches," Dolan said in a statement released by the bishops conference.

"The government would require all employees in our ‘accommodated' ministries to have the illicit coverage — they may not opt out, nor even opt out for their children," he said.

His remarks, coming on the heels of rejections from other opponents, including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, illustrate the scale of resistance facing one of the most controversial provisions of President Barack Obama's 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Catholic Health Association of the United States, the leading church-affiliated healthcare provider, declined to comment on Thursday, saying it was still seeking input from its 2,200 members, including 600 hospitals.

The contraceptives coverage is backed by liberal Catholic groups and women's rights activists.

The healthcare law already requires secular employers to cover all contraceptives and sterilization methods approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including the "morning after" pill.

But the administration is trying to reach an accommodation for religious nonprofit institutions whose employees would begin receiving coverage on August 1.

REDRESS IN COURT

Dolan criticized the administration for not addressing the issue of business owners who also oppose the policy on religious grounds.

"We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences," he said. "We will continue to stand united with brother bishops, religious institutions, and individual citizens who seek redress in the courts for as long as this is necessary."

The proposed rules, issued on February 1 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, would allow religiously affiliated employers to avoid paying for coverage. Private insurers would instead provide birth-control benefits through separate insurance policies.

Administration officials say insurers that provide group plans would be compensated by lower costs from fewer pregnancies and abortions.

Religiously affiliated institutions that provide their own health insurance for workers or students would be served by third-party administrators.

Third-party administrators would find an outside insurer to provide the contraceptives coverage. Those insurers' higher costs would then be compensated by lower user fees for participating in state-based healthcare exchanges, which are scheduled to begin operating on January 1, 2014.

The proposed regulations are open for public comment through April 8.

"We have been assured by the administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage. We remain eager for the administration to fulfill that pledge," Dolan said.

"We welcome and will take seriously the administration's invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found."

(Additional reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Jackie Frank and Philip Barbara)

(This story was corrected to fix spelling of cardinal's name to Dolan from Donlan throughout)

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Comments (21)
Bfstk wrote:
The Church, that wonderful moral force that has permitted the vast amounts of sexual abuse of children, is taking up the moral issue with President Obama. Actually, their purpose is to discredit the President and not matter what he proposes they will reject. Meanwhile, the immense fallout from the sex scandal rocking the church continues unabated. The church leaders have even tried to squash the good sisters whose vital work with the poor and downtrodden remains a beacon for goodness in this world. Shame on the church leadership for its hypocrisy and it Janus approach to health care for all; something the good sister have been fighting for for many years with little support from church higherups.

Feb 07, 2013 7:20pm EST  --  Report as abuse
akcoins wrote:
Of course a bunch of old white guys oppose Obama’s contraception plan. They don’t want their victims, er I mean parishioners to have access to contraception.

Feb 07, 2013 7:21pm EST  --  Report as abuse
UncleNed-222 wrote:
Ignore the child-molesting Catholics! They are no moral authority; in fact, they are quite the opposite.

Feb 07, 2013 7:26pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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