“This regulation breaks a long-held, bipartisan understanding about who we are as a nation. We were founded on the basis of freedom of conscience, and that it's an important part of our overall level of freedom, not to mention peaceful coexistence,” she said.
All levels of government have understood the need to protect religious providers who “take up work others fail or refuse to do.”
“Their work is good or superior to other providers. At some level people understand that it is the moral commitments and views (including the deep respect for sex shown by our teaching on contraception) that undergird this,” she told CNA.
Garnett voiced similar concerns.
“The issue in this debate is not whether or not people should be made to live in accord with the Church's teachings -- of course they shouldn't! -- but whether Catholic institutions should be free to act in accord with those teachings,” he said.
The fact that most people, including many Catholics, do not agree with the Church’s teaching on contraception should be “irrelevant to the question of whether we respect and protect the religious freedom of Catholic institutions to follow the Church’s own teachings on this matter.”
The Health and Human Services (HHS) rule follows a long period of activism from feminist and pro-abortion rights groups.
Alvare said that the rules gave Planned Parenthood “everything they have asked for.”
“Planned Parenthood lobbied for exactly this outcome,” she said.
Snead said the rules’ possible effects on Catholic social services made it appear that President Obama has “chosen the agenda of Planned Parenthood over caring for the poor.”
He noted that the rule was announced in the form of a “final interim rule” which goes into effect before comments are received and evaluated. This avoids the usual course of proposing a rule, seek comments and offer responses, then issue the final rule.
(Story continues below)
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“HHS chose a more aggressive course here,” he said. “That signals, I think, a strong normative commitment to promoting contraception (including potential abortifacients) that makes it unlikely that HHS will soften its stance.”
Snead encouraged Catholic institutions and individuals to send their comments objecting to the rule’s “impossibly narrow” definition of “religious employer.”
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, noted Catholic institutions’ “long and distinguished record” of serving everyone regardless of religious affiliation.
He accused the Obama administration of playing “Catch-22” with religious employers.
“If they are too religious, Catholic social service agencies risk losing federal funds, but if Catholic hospitals are not sufficiently religious, they cannot be exempt from carrying health insurance policies that transgress their religious tenets.
“The Obama administration knows exactly what it is doing, and what it is doing is burning religious institutions at both ends,” he charged in an Aug. 2 statement.