.- Despite rumors of a compromise on the government's controversial contraception mandate, the White House has not offered any concessions to the U.S. bishops’ conference and has not contacted them about possible negotiations.
Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn. told CNA in a Feb. 8 statement that “no one from the Administration has approached the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops for discussions on this matter of a possible ‘compromise.’”
Bishop Lori, who chairs the bishops’ committee for religious liberty, maintained that “the only acceptable solution to the HHS mandate is for the Administration to rescind completely the mandate to cover abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception.”
He stressed that no organization or employer should “be compelled to pay for, provide for, or to refer others in any way to ‘services’ which violate their consciences.”
Rumors of a possible compromise surfaced after David Axelrod, a senior adviser for President Obama’s re-election campaign, mentioned during a Feb. 7 MSNBC interview a need to find “a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventive care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions.”
On Jan. 20, the Obama administration announced a new mandate that will require virtually all employers to purchase health insurance plans that include coverage of contraception, sterilization and drugs that cause abortions.
The announcement prompted a strong outcry from religious schools, hospitals and charitable organizations, as well as Catholic individuals running secular businesses, who say that the requirement would force them to violate their religious beliefs.
However, despite the storm of protest, the Obama administration has refused to broaden the exemption to the mandate.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said at a Feb. 8 press briefing that Obama remains committed “to ensuring that women have access to contraception without paying any extra costs no matter where they work.”
He added that the administration is holding “further discussions” with those that have voiced concerns about the mandate, to discuss ways to “implement this policy” in a manner that will “allay or resolve some of those concerns.”
When he was questioned about the administration’s decision not to reach out to the bishops during these ongoing “conversations,” Carney responded, “Certain individuals may say they haven't had a call, but others have been engaged in this conversation and will be engaged.”
Bishop Lori emphasized the importance of finding a solution that respects the conscience rights of both religious organizations and private individuals.
“Narrow solutions often end up entangling church and state in needless disputes, which result in government coercion of conscience,” he said.
“Religious liberty has been granted to churches and to individuals not by the State but by the hand of God,” Bishop Lori pointed out. “It is the first of our freedoms in the Bill of Rights and at the heart of all the other freedoms.”
Bishop Lori called on the Obama administration “to rescind those parts of the mandate that violate the religious freedom of our religious institutions, and the consciences of millions of Americans.”