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US bishops say contraception mandate coerces religious groups
HHS logo / Attorney Anthony Picarello
HHS logo / Attorney Anthony Picarello

.- The HHS contraception mandate for insurance plans is “more radical” than any other in the United States and entails “nationwide coercion of religious people and groups,” the U.S. bishops’ general counsel said as he called for the mandate to be rescinded.

“Only rescission will eliminate all of the serious moral problems the mandate creates,” said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Picarello and bishops’ conference associate general counsel Michael Moses submitted an August 31 comment to the Department of Health and Human Services criticizing its requirement that insurers provide sterilization and contraception, including some drugs like Ella which can cause abortions.

It is “an unprecedented attack on religious liberty” to require that religious people and groups sell, broker or purchase services to which they have religious or moral objections, the attorneys said.

Under the new mandate, religiously-affiliated employers will be “affirmatively barred” from offering a plan to the public, or even to fellow believers, that excludes objectionable items.

“Until now, no federal law has prevented private insurers from accommodating purchasers and plan sponsors with moral or religious objections to certain services,” they said. “Likewise, federal law did not forbid any insurer, such as a religiously-affiliated insurer, to exclude from its plans any services to which the insurer itself had a moral or religious objection. Indeed, the freedom to exclude morally objectionable services has sometimes been stated affirmatively in federal law.”

Picarello and Moses said the mandate violates the Weldon amendment, the 2010 health care legislation and the Obama administration’s stated policy to exclude from the mandate any drug that can cause an abortion.

They criticized a proposed religious exemption as “narrower than any conscience clause ever enacted in federal law” and narrower than the “vast majority” of exemptions from state contraception mandates.

The exemptions cover a non-profit religious employer whose purpose is “the inculcation of religious values,” which primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets, and which primarily serves those who share its religious beliefs. The exemptions would not apply to many Catholic colleges and universities, charities, social service agencies and health care providers.

Secular organizations with objections to coverage of contraceptives or sterilization will also be ineligible, they noted.

The HHS released the mandates as part of the preventive care requirements of the 2010 health care legislation. A 60-day comment period on the regulations began on August 1.

Other prominent Catholics have opposed the regulations, including Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.

“Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible,” he said July 19, while the rules were under consideration.

Sr. Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, has criticized the religious exemption as “not broad enough to protect our Catholic health care providers.” She helped pass the health care legislation last year.

A group of Obama-friendly Catholic leaders and professors also issued an Aug. 26 open letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius seeking an expansion of religious protections.

The requirements are also being opposed by the San Diego-based St. Gianna Physician’s Guild, which has launched an online petition against them.

Unless the regulations are rescinded, they will take effect on Aug. 1, 2012.


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