But, he told Catholics, “We must study it carefully. … Stay tuned, as we may need your help again.”
Meanwhile, prominent lay Catholics have begun circulating a petition calling the new policy “unacceptable.”
The group included former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Mary Ann Glendon; president of Catholic University of America, John Garvey; and Princeton University professor, Robert George.
They said the President’s “so-called 'accommodation' changes nothing of moral substance.”
“It is morally obtuse for the administration to suggest (as it does) that this is a meaningful accommodation of religious liberty because the insurance company will be the one to inform the employee that she is entitled to the embryo-destroying 'five day after pill' pursuant to the insurance contract purchased by the religious employer,” the petition reads.
“It does not matter who explains the terms of the policy purchased by the religiously affiliated or observant employer. What matters is what services the policy covers. … It is an insult to the intelligence of Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith and conscience to imagine that they will accept as assault on their religious liberty if only it is covered up by a cheap accounting trick.”
The announcement of the “new” policy followed protests from more than 150 bishops and others against the Obama administration’s earlier mandate – which would require virtually all employers to buy health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs.
Amid the strong disapproval, the White House had said that it was holding “further discussions” with those that voiced concerns about the mandate.
However, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., head of the Bishops Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, 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.'”
When asked on Feb. 8 about why the administration had not consulted the bishops during these conversations, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “Certain individuals may say they haven't had a call, but others have been engaged in this conversation and will be engaged.”
The CHA was apparently among those “engaged.”
(Story continues below)
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In her statement released by the White House ahead of its announcement, CHA head Sr. Keehan seemed to be looking beyond the controversy.
She said the controversy over the mandate has been “uncomfortable,” but that the hospital association was looking forward to “working with the administration and others to … extend comprehensive and quality health care to many who suffer today from the lack of it.”
During the debates over the comprehensive health care reform in 2010, Sr. Keehan and CHA broke from the U.S. bishops to support the legislation. The bishops had expressed concern over the legislation – under which the contraception mandate was later authorized – because they believed it may allow for funding of abortion.