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Obama administration denies 'conscience clause' exemption on contraceptive coverage

Catholic World News - January 20, 2012

Brushing aside concerns about religious liberty and respect for individual consciences, the Obama administration has announced that Church-related institutions will be required to provide contraceptive coverage for employees in their health-care plans.

The decision, announced on January 20 by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, guarantees a confrontation between the Obama administration and the US Catholic bishops. The bishops, along with a number of Catholic universities, had argued strenuously against including mandatory contraceptive coverage in health-care plans.

Ironically, the administration’s decision was announced just a day after a speech in which Pope Benedict XVI told visiting American bishops that religious freedom is under attack in the US. The Pontiff specifically mentioned government initiatives that would “deny the right of conscientious objection” by forcing individuals and institutions to partiipate in activities they regard as intrinsically immoral. The US bishops’ conference had warned that the imposition of mandatory contraceptive coverage would be a clear violation of the conscience rights and an assault on religious freedom.

Calling the administration's decision "literally unconscionable," Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, the president of the US bishops' conference, said that the ruling "has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand.” He promised that the US bishops would fight against implementation of the administration's plan. "In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences," he charged.

In a token response to the conscience-clause appeals, Sebelius announced that religious institutions would be given a one-year reprieve from the rule. While all other institutions will be required to carry contraceptive coverage by August 1 of this year, church-related institutions that apply for an extension will have until August 1, 2013 to comply. However, those institutions will be asked to refer their employees to other sources of contraceptive coverage. Sebelius announced:

This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule. We intend to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support.

The one-year extension could also serve political purposes: delaying a confrontation that could provoke severe tensions between the Obama administration and church-related groups during a presidential election year; and postponing the inevitable court challenge to the regulation until after the campaign season.

The new rule confirmed on January 20 does not apply directly to houses of worship, but does affect church-related institutions such as schools, hospitals, and charitable organizations. Sebelius said if they already offer some contraceptive coverage, these institutions do not qualify for the one-year extension. Institutions seeking that exemption “must certify that they qualify for the delayed implementation,” she said.

“This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty,” Sebelius claimed. “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: happyseaotter8027 - Jan. 26, 2012 12:25 AM ET USA

    Isn't religious freedom one of the reasons this country was founded? Where are we to go to find religious freedom now? How does a government obtain the power to force us to go against our Faith and our consciences? Obama will be re-elected and we will have four more years of tyranny. I see every Catholic hospital closing their doors with resulting massive layoffs and patients being turned away - all because of Obama and his administration. I'm really frightened.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Jan. 21, 2012 5:37 PM ET USA

    After a meeting with Obama last Nov 14th, Archbishop Dolan had this to say - "But I would say this: that I found the president of the United States to be very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community that were worried about an intrusion into religious liberty." It is well nigh impossible to put any confidence or hope in our leadership. Thay are naive beyond imagination. Duped again, and again, and again.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Jan. 20, 2012 9:07 PM ET USA

    One year? You mean until after the election, right?

  • Posted by: Chestertonian - Jan. 20, 2012 8:23 PM ET USA

    This decision is further proff for my contention that employers should be removed from the health insurance equation. We should purchase health insurance in the same manner as home and car insurance: as individuals, choosing only the coverage we need or want. Govt and employers should not be involved!

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jan. 20, 2012 5:36 PM ET USA

    The identifying factor of all tyrants is their insistence on coercion of others. If Catholics demanded contraception of its members, Obama's chattels would be insisting that we must not engage in it.

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