Archive of February 23, 2012

Mandate's morning-after pill provision has only 38 percent support

Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2012 (CNA) - Mandatory insurance coverage of the “morning-after pill,” a key part of the Obama administration's contraception rule, has only 38 percent of likely voters' support according to a new survey.

A Feb. 20-21 telephone poll by Rasmussen Reports found that half of the country's likely voters opposed mandatory insurance coverage of emergency contraceptive drugs like “ella” and “Plan B,” which can cause an early-stage abortion by preventing embryo implantation.

Thirteen percent of the voting public said they were unsure whether the government should force insurers to provide the drugs without a co-pay, as they must do under Health and Human Services' rule finalized Feb. 10.

The president's morning-after pill requirement is even more unpopular with political independents, than it is with the voting public in general.

Among likely voters who did not identify as either Republicans or Democrats, the poll found only 31 percent support, and 54 percent opposition, to mandated coverage of “free” emergency contraception.

Support was also lower among self-identified Catholics, than in the general population. Only 33 percent of Catholic respondents supported the administration's plan to make insurers cover emergency contraception without any charge to the recipient.

Only 24 percent of Evangelicals, and 31 percent of other Protestants, supported the contraception mandate's morning-after pill provision.

Different attitudes toward abortion were also associated with support or opposition of the emergency contraception mandate. Those who identified as “pro-choice” supported the morning-after rule at a rate of 61 percent, while 79 percent opposition was found among those calling themselves “pro-life.”

Likely voters of both sexes had similar attitudes on the question of emergency contraception, which the Obama administration has sought to present as an important part of women's health care.

Men and women supported the emergency-contraception mandate at rates of 36 percent and 39 percent, respectively, while 51 percent of men and 48 percent of women said they opposed the provision.

While the contraception mandate has been touted by supporters as a benefit to the poor, its strongest support – at a rate of 49 percent – came from respondents making over $100,000 per year, the highest income bracket surveyed.

Those earning less than $20,000 annually, who fell into the survey's lowest income bracket, were actually less likely to support the morning-after pill policy than those in the top income range. They approved of the administration's policy at a rate of 44 percent.

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Judge rules Wash. pharmacists cannot be forced to dispense contraception

Tacoma, Wash., Feb 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The state of Washington cannot force pharmacists and stores to dispense the “morning-after pill” against their religious objections, a federal judge has ruled.

“Today’s decision sends a very clear message: No individual can be forced out of her profession solely because of her religious beliefs,” said Luke Goodrich, deputy national litigation director at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in his reaction to the Feb. 22 judgment.

The fund worked with Seattle's law firm Ellis, Li and McKinstry, in successfully suing Mary Selecky, Secretary of the Washington State Department of Health and Human Services, over a 2007 rule that required pharmacists to provide emergency contraception.

“The Board of Pharmacy’s 2007 rules are not neutral, and they are not generally applicable,” wrote U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton in his ruling, explaining his grounds for dismissing them as unconstitutional.

“They were designed instead to force religious objectors to dispense Plan B,” Judge Leighton found, “and they sought to do so despite the fact that refusals to deliver for all sorts of secular reasons were permitted.”

Goodrich explained that the court found a disparity between the board's treatment of different cases in which a pharmacy might send a customer to another business for emergency contraception.

“If the state allows pharmacies to refer patients elsewhere for economic, business, and convenience reasons, it has to allow them to refer for reasons of conscience,” Goodrich said.

Three plaintiffs – the family-owned Ralph's Thriftway pharmacy, and pharmacists Margo Thelen and Rhonda Mesler – said they could not violate their beliefs by providing the drugs “Plan B” and “ella.” The emergency contraceptives can kill a developing human embryo by preventing implantation.

The pharmaceutical providers were willing to refer customers to other locations that would fill a prescription for the drugs in question.

This compromise, however, was not accepted. Under the Board of Pharmacy regulations, Thelen lost her job and Mesler was told she would have to transfer to another state. Meanwhile, Ralph's Thriftway owner Kevin Stormans was investigated and threatened with punishment by the board.

Thelen, who has worked as a pharmacist for 39 years, said she was “thrilled” by the court's decision, striking down a rule that forced her “to leave a job I loved simply because of my deeply held religious convictions.”

In his opinion, Judge Leighton recalled the controversy that gave rise to the Board of Pharmacy's 2007 rules. In 2006, the board adopted a draft rule allowing conscientious objectors to opt out of giving emergency contraception.

Governor Christine Gregoire, however, objected to the rules, declaring that “no one should be denied appropriate prescription drugs based on the personal, religious, or moral objection of individual pharmacists.”

Gregoire threatened to replace the entire board if it adopted the draft rule. Its final rule drew from proposals by Planned Parenthood and the Northwest Women’s Law Center, and included provisions Judge Leighton said were meant “to eliminate conscientious objection.”

“While the board allows pharmacies to refuse to stock drugs for countless secular reasons, the board will investigate if a religious objector refuses to stock Plan B for a religious reason,” the judge noted.

“The Board of Pharmacy has interpreted the rules to ensure that the burden falls squarely and almost exclusively on religious objectors.”

“A regulation is not constitutional when the government applies it in a selective, discriminatory manner, thus singling out the plaintiffs’ religiously motivated conduct,” Judge Leighton explained.

“When the government enforces a law against religious conduct but not similar secular conduct, it devalues religious reasons by judging them to be of lesser import than nonreligious reasons. This is exactly what has occurred here.”

Washington is the second state, after Illinois, in which the Becket Fund has successfully challenged rules forcing conscientious objectors to stock emergency contraception.

The fund is currently involved in four lawsuits on behalf of religious institutions, including EWTN and Ave Maria University, that could be forced to offer the morning-after pill through their insurance plans under President Obama's contraception mandate.

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Wichita cathedral statues offer new look at Holy Family

Wichita, Kan., Feb 23, 2012 (CNA) -

Wichita’s Catholic cathedral has commissioned two statues whose creator intends to provide a “powerful” depiction of the Crucifixion and to celebrate Mary being pregnant with Jesus.

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception commissioned the Oregon-based artist Rip Caswell to create the bronze sculptures one-fourth larger than life size.

The piece “Mary and Joseph” depicts a pregnant Mary with her hand on her womb, while Joseph is shown as a supportive father figure and husband standing behind her.

Caswell said he has made some “bold departures” with this piece.

Traditionally, Mary’s pregnancy was hidden or portrayed as barely showing and St. Joseph was characterized as an older man in the background.

But Caswell said he sees a trend in churches of telling the traditional stories from a new angle.

“Culture and society have changed,” he explained. “Churches still want commissioned works to be of the highest quality and to remain true to doctrine, but they want them to reflect a more genuine portrayal of life and of the things with which we can all relate.

With his new sculpture, Caswell said he aims to show Mary “celebrating” her pregnancy and motherhood, and to portray Joseph as a “strong, solid and protective man, very much in love with Mary.”

But this depiction also hints at the sorrows of Mary. Her statue will look across the Wichita cathedral to a scene of the Crucifixion that Caswell promises will be “powerful.”

“The cross will appear to come right out of the floor. People will be able to walk around it, look
up into Jesus’ face and even touch his feet,” the sculptor said. “In the Book of John, it talks about Christ willingly sacrificing himself on the cross. He was in control at every moment. He will be looking down, but his face will not appear as a victim. I will create his face to reflect a sense of calm and peace.”

Msgr. Robert Hemberger, chair of the Cathedral Arts Committee, said the statues are intended to appear “almost as though there is a conversation taking place between the crucified Jesus and Mary, his mother.

“She and Joseph are standing here with the child and Mary has a distant look in her eyes, looking toward the future.”

The monsignor said he was ‘delighted” by the beauty of the Mary sculpture.

“Her face is astoundingly beautiful—it’s just amazing.”

The figure of Mary is 7 feet, 1 inch in height, while Joseph is 7 feet, 8 inches. The artist used more than 500 pounds of clay in the process of making the Mary and Joseph statue.

The Diocese of Wichita’s Arts Committee selected Caswell for the work after a national search and an extensive interview process in December 2010.

Msgr. Hemberger said that the cathedral chose the artist because of his serious approach to the project.

“He understood what we were looking for and he had an intuitive sense for our vision. We were struck by his attention to detail. Historical accuracy is important to him.”

The statues will be positioned facing each other in separate east and west alcoves of the cross-shaped cathedral. They will be installed in late August or early September.

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US clergy declare 'state of emergency' over contraception mandate

Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A group of ministers from numerous religious backgrounds sent a message to the White House declaring a “state of emergency” over a health insurance mandate that may force religious employers to violate their consciences.

“Protestants are beginning to close ranks and join our Catholic friends on this issue,” said Lutheran minister Dr. Norman Lund.

Lund told CNA on Feb. 21 that he considers the issue to be part of his Christian identity and “an issue worth fighting and dying for.” He explained that the core problem “is not birth control” but “the freedom of churches to determine their own policies and positions on issues like birth control.”

“In other words,” he said, “this is an issue of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.”

Lund is a member of the National Clergy Council, a group that represents Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Orthodox leaders.

After deliberating with pastors and theologians across the country, the council has declared a state of emergency for the Churches in response to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

The mandate will require employers to provide health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences and religious beliefs.

A declaration outlining a “State of Emergency and Time for Speaking” was delivered to the White House on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, in an appeal to President Barack Obama.

The statement affirms the council’s “unwavering position” on the “sanctity” of conscience rights and maintains the “God-given” ability to live out principles of conscience within a religious institution.

Clergy members said they hope the matter can be resolved by a repeal of the mandate, but warned that “we must hold to our convictions and positions and act according to our prerogatives no matter the legal, social, pecuniary, or political consequences.”
The council noted that its statement was inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and martyr who worked to resist the Nazis.

It described Bonhoeffer as “an exemplar of what it means to hold to and to exercise one's religious, moral, and ethical convictions, even to the surrender of every other right, including the right to one's life.”

At the Feb. 2 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., President Obama was given a copy of Bonhoeffer’s biography by author Eric Metaxas.

Calling for “all people of conscience” to stand with them, the council members informed Obama that they “must take extraordinary action to respectfully resist your decrees.”

The National Clergy Council joins with a growing number of faith groups that have objected to the contraception mandate on the grounds of religious freedom.

The U.S. bishops have called for the mandate to be repealed, and multiple members of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities – representing both Catholic and Protestant schools – have urged the administration to substantially change or remove it.

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Nuncio urges Mexican priests to spiritually prepare for Pope

Mexico City, Mexico, Feb 23, 2012 (CNA) -

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico, called on priests in the country to prepare themselves spiritually to welcome Pope Benedict during his March 23-25 visit.

“Undoubtedly this is one of the best ways to prepare one's self as a priest and as the Church for such an important event: though information and formation for one's self and for others, always in and from the truth,” Archbishop Pierre said during a meeting with priests of the Archdiocese of Mexico City on Feb. 19.

He noted the great social impact Pope Benedict has had as a pastor, leader and thinker, “especially during these times of secularism and modernization.” Yet beyond this impact, “what interests us is understanding his message, his testimony and his guidance in the faith.”

Archbishop Pierre encouraged priests to be “docile disciples consumed by missionary zeal” and to bring “to the heart of the culture” a “unified and complete meaning of human life which neither science, nor politicians, nor the economy nor the media can provide.”

“Mexico waits to hear the Pope speak to her of God! May Jesus Christ speak to all men and women and remind each Mexican believer of his or her great vocation to become greater disciples and missionaries,” he said.

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Vatican workshop focuses on ethical treatment of infertility

Vatican City, Feb 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Pontifical Academy for Life is hosting a one-day workshop on treating infertility in an ethical way.
Using in vitro fertilization to treat infertility is often unnecessary, as well as immoral, says Fr. Renzo Pegoraro, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

“There is a strong risk” of missing solutions to infertility by treating it with assisted reproductive technology, he told CNA. He believes the IVF approach to infertility is motivated by “the idea that technology can offer a solution without trying to resolve the real problem of infertility.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life began its 18th general assembly on Feb. 23 and will finish on Saturday, Feb. 25 with a papal audience. As a part of its meeting, the academy is hosting a public workshop on Feb. 24 that is dedicated to discussing treatments for infertility.
The workshop will feature 16 experts that come from Brazil, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy and the United States, and will be held in the Vatican’s New Synod Hall.
Fr. Pegoraro, who is both a medical doctor and moral theologian, hopes the discussions will help explain why infertility is on the rise across the world and what ethical solutions are available.

“There are a lot of possibilities at the therapeutic level with medical, hormonal and surgical treatments that are the first line of approach in this field,” he said. He also thinks that trying to discover the underlying reasons for infertility can unlock the problem.

He pointed to developed countries where “lifestyle factors” often play a significant part in causing infertility. These include “the age of childbearing for women, and the problems of smoking, obesity and alcohol use, and probably also a psychological stress in the life of the people.”

In the case of developing countries, he says “infections are more relevant,” along with “infective or sexually transmitted disease and major hygienic problems that have an impact on the couples.”
Fr. Pegoraro estimates that 15 percent of couples in the developed world are affected by infertility, while in developing countries that figure can rise to 30 percent.
Given those statistics, the focus of the workshop will be to urge the scientific community to improve its approach to preventing infertility and “to offer an update on the management of infertility at a diagnostic and therapeutic level.”

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Youth catechism is best selling Catholic book worldwide

Rome, Italy, Feb 23, 2012 (CNA) - The co-creator of the Church’s catechism for young people has revealed that it's now the top selling Catholic book in the world.

“The latest figures show that Youcat has sold 1.7 million copies worldwide. It’s been a great success in nearly every country where it has been published,” said German publisher Bernard Meuser in a Feb. 23 interview with CNA.

“For example, it is number one in Spain, number one in America, and number one in Germany along with the Pope’s latest book.”

In 2006 Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna and Meuser decided to work on catechism that transmitted the Church’s teachings “in a way that younger people can understand.” He said Cardinal Schönborn’s key advice was that “if you do something for young people, you should do it with young people.”

Over the next five years the two men worked with theologians, educators, priests, and over 60 young people to create “Youcat.” The name is an abbreviation of “Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church.” 

The distinctive, slim, yellow volume was published ahead of the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid, and contains 527 questions and answers. They are accompanied by numerous quotations, images and illustrations including their trademark “stick man” who becomes animated by the rapid flicking of each page.

“I was astonished that the young people liked the book so much,” Meuser said. “We’ve had so much praise from young people and, yes, they really like the stick man.” The Youcat Facebook page has also garnered over 21,000 followers to date.

The book is currently published in 20 languages, but Meuser said that by next year that total will rise to 30, including Chinese and Arabic.

One of Pope Benedict’s hopes for the book has also come to fruition. The catechism has generated many study groups, including one in the Philippines that has over 12,000 participants.

Meuser praised God, “who helped us from the beginning,” for the project’s success.

“I really think it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.”

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Catholic charity struggles to help those affected by Greek crisis

Athens, Greece, Feb 23, 2012 (CNA) -

Catholic charity Caritas Greece is working harder than ever to help those who are suffering, especially the poor and vulnerable, from the country's financial disintegration.

“This crisis will increase the vulnerability of the population and put the country's future at stake if no action is taken,” said Jorge Nuño Mayer, secretary general of Caritas Europa.

“It is obvious that with negative resources, the life of a considerable part of the Greek population – the poor, the young, the elderly, the unemployed – is at stake,” Nuño said in a Feb. 17 article on the charity's website. 

Caritas Greece, a member of the European Caritas network, has a refugee center for immigrants living in Athens and its surroundings. It serves 300 meals a day, offers Greek and English lessons and provides vaccinations for children as well as relief kits with clothes, blankets and baby milk.

But the center has only five employees – a guard, cook, secretary, cleaner and social worker. And the number of volunteers, currently 70, may reduce if the country's situation does not improve.

“We have many problems because nine out of ten immigrants in Europe pass through Greece,” said Begoña Kalliga Castiella, a Spanish journalist who has been volunteering there for seven years.

“The Greeks are now only employing Greeks so these people remain stuck here until they can escape to another European country – usually through Italy.”

“The aim of Caritas Athens' Refugee Centre is to help immigrants so sometimes we have to turn away Greeks, but we tell them of other places where they can get help,” said Castiella, who serves as newspaper ABC's correspondent to Greece. 

In recent times the charity has been receiving a larger number of Afghans, Middle Easterners and Africans. Greek Catholics make up only 0.5 percent of the population, making Caritas in the country smaller as compared to its work in other countries like Germany.

Castiella, who has been living in Greece for 32 years, says the charity is barely surviving as the state is not offering any help.

Her remarks come as the country faces a nearly 20 percent unemployment rate amid severe austerity measures.

On Feb. 23, the Greek Parliament approved a bond swap that would eliminate $142 billion off the country's privately held debt. A $172 billion bailout was also recently approved to prevent Greece from going bankrupt and keep the country in the euro currency system.

The new measures were decided days after thousands of protesters took to the streets against the government's earlier resolution to reduce the minimum wage by 22 percent.

However, despite attempts to salvage the situation, new financial projections show that the country's economy could shrink even more this year.

The population, which is also contending with further reductions in pensions, is struggling to cope with the rising cost of living induced by taxes and inflation.

Caritas secretary Nuño said he is additionally concerned about the civil unrest in the country.

“We also fear that the current riots are having serious repercussions on the Greek economy,” he said. “All these scenarios can lead to more poverty, unemployment and even a deterioration of the social system.”

“The European Union and Greek politicians cannot let a country fall into a black hole of poverty,” he emphasized. “It would be a shame for the entire EU. The present and the future of the Greek people, especially of the poorest, must be top priority in political decisions.”

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Government assault may have just begun, Cardinal Dolan warns

Washington D.C., Feb 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - President Obama's contraception mandate may only be the beginning of a historic attack on religious freedom, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan warned his fellow U.S. bishops in a Feb. 22 letter.

“If the government can, for example, tell Catholics that they cannot be in the insurance business today without violating their religious convictions, where does it end?” asked the cardinal, addressing the U.S. episcopate in a letter coauthored with the bishops' religious freedom chair Bishop William E. Lori.

The Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate “violates the constitutional limits on our government, and the basic rights upon which our country was founded,” wrote the cardinal and bishop. They noted that religious liberty “does not depend on the benevolence of who is regulating us.”

The dispute with the administration is “not about Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals,” and “not just about contraception, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization – although all should recognize the injustices involved in making them part of a universal mandated health care program.”

“It is about people of faith. This is first and foremost a matter of religious liberty for all.”

In a letter released in both English and Spanish, Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Lori gave their fellow bishops an update on the Health and Human Services mandate, finalized Feb. 10 over the objections of the Catholic Church and other religious groups.

The mandate requires many religious ministries to cover contraception and sterilization, including abortion-causing drugs, in their health plans. The U.S. bishops have rejected the rule, along with a promised change purportedly shifting the burden to insurers.

In their letter, Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Lori confirmed that Health and Human Services' original rule – forcing religious groups to underwrite the “preventive services” directly, rather than contracting to provide them through premium payments to insurers – had become law without change.

“The mandate to provide the illicit services remains,” they wrote. “The exceedingly narrow exemption for churches remains. Despite the outcry, all the threats to religious liberty posed by the initial rules remain.”

Those initial rules drew public condemnation from over 180 Roman Catholic and Eastern Catholic bishops in the U.S., as well as 53 of the country's Eastern Orthodox bishops and thousands of other religious leaders.

Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Lori thanked the U.S. Catholic bishops for their “remarkable witness of our unity in faith and strength of conviction during this past month.”

“We came together, joined by people of every creed and political persuasion, to make one thing resoundingly clear: we stand united against any attempt to deny or weaken the right to religious liberty upon which our country was founded.”

“We have made our voices heard, and we will not cease from doing so until religious freedom is restored.”

They insisted that President Obama “should rescind the mandate.”

But the bishops' fight for their constitutional “free exercise of religion,” guaranteed in the First Amendment, may have just begun.

“Recent actions by the administration have attempted to reduce this free exercise to a 'privilege' arbitrarily granted by the government as a mere exemption from an all-encompassing, extreme form of secularism,” Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Lori observed.

Even the contraception mandate's “unduly narrow” religious exemption – which allows institutions to opt out if they primarily employ and serve adherents of their own faith, for the purpose of inculcating religious values – “is instituted only by executive whim” and “can be taken away easily.”

The bishops' president and religious freedom chairman reaffirmed their support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. The bill which would amend the federal health care reform law under which the contraception rule was made, to strengthen its conscience protections.

They urged other bishops to share the English and Spanish versions of the letter with the faithful of their dioceses, and to contact legislators through the action alert at

“Above all,” the cardinal and chairman reflected, “we rely on the help of the Lord in this important struggle … Let us continue to pray for a quick and complete resolution to this and all threats to religious liberty and the exercise of our faith in our great country.”

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GOP candidates slam contraception mandate as attack on family

Mesa, Ariz., Feb 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Republican presidential candidates denounced the Obama administration's contraception mandate as an attack on family and religious freedom, which they described as fundamental pillars of society.

“I don’t think we’ve seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we’ve seen under Barack Obama,” said former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

At a Feb. 22 debate at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Ariz., the candidates condemned a federal mandate that would require employers to offer health insurance plans that include contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.

Although the Obama administration has offered an “accommodation” for religious freedom, the U.S. bishops and many other religious groups are not satisfied with it. The accommodation would require employers to purchase health care plans from insurance companies that would offer the controversial products and procedures free of charge.

Romney called the mandate “unbelievable” and said that the “accommodation” offered by the administration was “not appropriate” because “obviously the Catholic Church will end up paying” for the coverage it opposes.

“This isn’t an argument about contraceptives,” but rather, a discussion about whether America will preserve “the foundation of the nation, which is the family,” he said.

Romney criticized the Obama administration’s narrow view of religion and defended his own record of working with religious organizations to ensure that the law allowed them to practice their beliefs freely.

In his remarks, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum said that there is a need to fix the broader problem that “the family is fracturing” in America. 

“What we’re seeing is a problem in our culture,” he explained.

While campaigning, Santorum has said that he is willing to speak about issues that most other politicians avoid, such as “the dangers of contraception.”

During the debate, he explained that the decline of the American family must be addressed rather than ignored because it is negatively impacting society.

More than 40 percent of children in America are born out of wedlock, many of them to young parents, he observed. When we have “children being raised by children,” there is a greater risk of poverty, drug abuse and other problems, he said.

He advocated funding for abstinence programs rather than contraception as a means of easing these problems in society.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Texas congressman Ron Paul also weighed in on the debate.

Gingrich said that there was a “legitimate question about the power of the government to impose on religion.”

Paul, a former OB-GYN, agreed that moral problems are affecting the culture of America. “It’s the morality of society that we have to deal with,” he said, adding that “the pills can’t be blamed.”

He later claimed during the debate that “the morning after pill is nothing more than a birth control pill” and so “you can’t separate the two.” Paul drew criticism, however, for misrepresenting the morning after pill, which unlike contraception, terminates  a pregnancy that already exists by preventing a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.

The four remaining GOP candidates have all describe themselves as pro-life during their campaigns and have vowed to defund Planned Parenthood.

They have also pledged to defend the religious freedom of Catholics and all Americans in their policies.

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Seven states, Catholic plaintiffs file largest lawsuit against HHS mandate

Lincoln, Neb., Feb 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - President Obama's contraception mandate is facing its biggest legal challenge yet, in a lawsuit brought by seven state attorneys general, a school, two women, a charitable group, and a major Catholic insurer.

In their lawsuit filed Feb. 23 against the federal government, the 12 plaintiffs challenge the rule they say “would coerce religious organizations … to directly subsidize contraception, abortifacients, sterilization, and related services in contravention with their religious beliefs.”

They maintain that the administration's rule, requiring insurance coverage of the controversial drugs and devices, is an “unprecedented invasion” of their “First Amendment rights to free speech, free exercise of religion, and free association.”

“This case illustrates that the federal government's rule punishes people of faith in all situations, just because they want to make decisions according to their own religious beliefs,” Alliance Defense Fund Legal Counsel Matt Bowman told CNA on Feb. 23.

“In this case you have individuals, Catholic agencies, a religious school, a nun, and a variety of states – trying to defend their citizen's right not to have their religious freedom attacked by this federal mandate involving abortion-inducing drugs and other items.”

The lawsuit is the fifth and largest so far against Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who confirmed on Feb. 10 that many religious institutions would be forced to underwrite “preventive services” as part of federal health care reform.

Other defendants named in the suit include U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, all of whom are being sued in their capacity as officials of the U.S. government.

The 12 plaintiffs include the attorneys general of Nebraska, South Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and Oklahoma. They are joined by Catholic Social Services, Nebraska's Pius X Catholic High School, and the Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America.

Two Catholic women, Sister Mary Catherine, C.K., and lay missionary Stacy Molai, are also suing Sebelius, Geithner, and Solis.

While all of the plaintiffs allege a government violation of the First Amendment, they do so on particular grounds due to their individual circumstances.

The Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America, also known as the Catholic Mutual Group, was founded in 1889 and currently provides coverage to over half of U.S. Catholic dioceses along with over 250 religious orders and other institutions.

“Insurers are often run by people with religious faith, who should not have to choose between their belief and their participation in our society,” Bowman noted, explaining the importance of Catholic Mutual Group's involvement in the suit.

Because the group does not primarily employ workers who share its religious beliefs, it would be subject to the contraception mandate if it chose to change its employee health care plans to switch from those it offered as of March 2010.

Catholic Social Services, a Nebraska-based charitable organization, does not qualify for the mandate's religious exemption because it serves people of all faiths. Pius X high school, similarly, could be forced to cover services which its current insurance plan excludes for moral reasons.

According to the seven state attorneys general, the contraception coverage rule's implementation would force many non-exempt religious institutions to stop offering health insurance for reasons of conscience.

Many of these employees, the lawsuit notes, would have to shift to Medicaid in order to comply with the federal health care law's individual coverage mandate – placing a financial burden on states already facing a spike in Medicaid enrollments because of the health care law.

Both of the individual plaintiffs object on moral grounds to subsidizing contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs through their health plans.

Sr. Mary Catherine's plan would be subject to the mandate, while Molai may have to choose between a morally offensive plan, and the loss of health insurance in the future.

Bowman told CNA that the broad spectrum of plaintiffs showed the mandate's dramatic impact on religious liberty throughout society. He praised the state attorneys general for their willingness to defend freedom for all faiths.

“This is not an issue that is isolated to one church,” said Bowman. “The Federal government's actions attack the freedom of all Americans to live and practice whatever their faith is, without being forced to violate the sanctity of human life and sexuality.”

“It is the duty of government to protect the rights of the citizens – because those rights come from God. They don't come from the federal government that claims the ability to define who's 'religious' and who isn't.”

“The states in this case are doing what the government should do, which is to protect American citizens from the attack on freedom that the federal government, and the people in charge of it at the moment, are waging against religious believers.”

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