* Bishops seek birth control measures in fiscal legislation
* Fiscal bills seen as most likely legislation to pass
* Religious employers face Aug. 1 deadline on contraceptives
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON, Feb 15 U.S. Roman Catholic bishops
stepped up their battle against President Obama's contraceptives
policy on Friday by urging Congress to use its fiscal debate to
free religious employers from a mandate requiring insurance
coverage for birth control.
In a letter to all 535 members of Congress, Archbishop
William Lori of Baltimore suggested two provisions to extend
existing federal conscience protections to the contraceptives
mandate and strengthen the ability of opponents to seek
vindication in federal court.
"The federal government's respect for believers and people
of conscience no longer measures up to the treatment Americans
have a right to expect from their elected representatives,"
wrote Lori, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty
of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"I urge you in the strongest terms possible to incorporate
the provisions ... in the upcoming legislative proposals to fund
the federal government," Lori added.
The conference also plans to send out an action alert via
email and text message calling on supporters across the country
to visit local congressional offices next week when lawmakers
are home on break.
Obama's 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
requires employers to provide health insurance coverage through
group coverage plans for all contraceptives approved by the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration, including the so-called "morning
The archbishop's letter underscored a growing sense of
urgency among church leaders over the birth control coverage
rules that are due to take effect on Aug. 1 for religiously
affiliated employers including universities, hospitals and
The bishops have tried several times to get Congress to act
over the past year, amid numerous protests and more than 40
lawsuits by religious groups and employers. But Lori's letter
marks their first attempt to use the debates over deficit
reduction, the debt limit and government funding.
"To many people, this looks like the main must-pass vehicle
going through Congress this year," said Richard Doerflinger,
associate director of the conference's Secretariat of Pro-Life
The new healthcare law contains an exemption for houses of
worship but has come under attack from Catholic leaders,
Protestant Evangelicals and other social conservatives who also
want religious nonprofit organizations and religious business
The Catholic Church regards contraception as a sin and birth
control products like the morning-after pill a form of abortion.
In a development that could intensify the debate, the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control reported this week that growing
numbers of American women are using the morning-after pill.
The Obama administration offered its opponents a compromise
on Feb. 1 by proposing new regulations that would allow
religious employers to avoid paying for birth control coverage
for their workers. Instead, insurers would provide the benefits
free through separate coverage plans.
The president of the bishops conference, Cardinal Timothy
Dolan of New York, rejected the plan as inadequate last week.
Doerflinger said church efforts to get favorable language on
contraceptives included in funding legislation follows a
congressional precedent for including conscience provisions in
appropriations bills in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But he acknowledged that the bishops could face an uphill
fight on Capitol Hill. "The pressure everywhere is for just
trying to address the money issues," he said. "That's why we
need to remind members of Congress that these issues of
fundamental rights are also pending and won't go away."
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Ros Krasny and Paul