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Obama expected to address contraception mandate

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President Barack Obama is expected this morning to address a controversial Department of Health and Human Services mandate regarding contraceptive coverage in health care plans, several news outlets are reporting.

The announcement comes after religious groups -- including a wide coalition of Catholic leaders -- denounced the mandate, which requires employers to provide preventive medical services for women, including contraception, to their employees.

Hawaii's contraception model has downsides, some say

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While the possibility of mandatory contraception coverage in health plans could become a new reality for many Catholic institutions under the recent ruling by the Department of Health and Human Services, dioceses in nearly 30 states have already faced contraception rules, reacting in various ways.

Currently, 28 states have laws requiring contraceptive coverage as part of health plans. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 20 of those states offer some type of exemption, a list including Arizona, New York, Maryland, Missouri and California.

Whether exemptions exist or not, Catholic groups in all 28 states can avoid the contraceptive mandate in one of three ways, says the U.S. bishops' conference. These include self-insuring prescription drug coverage, dropping that coverage completely or opting into a federal law that preempts any state mandates. Critics say the narrowness of the recent federal ruling would block religious groups from taking any of these avenues.

In Hawaii, contraception coverage has been on the books since 1999. Offering more leniency for religious groups, its mandate has been mentioned as a compromise to the federal HHS ruling.

Catholics unite in opposition to contraception mandate

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The Catholic community that was deeply divided over the passage of President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010 has found itself united in opposition to one provision in that landmark legislation.

A mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finalized in late January requires employers to provide preventive medical services for women, including contraception, to its employees. Though churches and certain religious employers would be exempt from the mandate, critics say that exemption is too narrow.

Obama administration went too far with contraception ruling

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It is time for the Obama administration to admit it overstepped a boundary when it issued a mandate requiring coverage for contraceptives under its health care reform measures with only a narrow exception granted for religious institutions.

At stake primarily is the moral issue tied up with the right of religious groups to refrain from acts they deem morally questionable. That point is inextricably linked to the politics of the moment -- the survival of this presidency, and with it, the health care reform that is set to provide coverage beginning in 2014 for the 42 million people who are currently uninsured.

The mandate, approved by the Department of Health and Human Services in January, requires that all health plans cover contraceptives and sterilization free of charge. A narrow exception was made for religious organizations that teach that contraception or voluntary sterilization is sinful, but only if they employ primarily or exclusively members of their own faith, exist primarily for the inculcation of religious values and provide their services primarily to members of their own faith.

Military chaplains told not to read archbishop's letter on HHS mandate

WASHINGTON -- A directive from the U.S. Army chief of chaplains that a letter opposing the Obama administration's contraceptive mandate not be read from the pulpit by Catholic military chaplains violated First Amendment rights of free speech and free exercise of religion, according to the head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio spoke with Secretary of the Army John McHugh about the chief of chaplains' response to the archbishop's Jan. 26 letter and the two "agreed that it was a mistake to stop the reading of the archbishop's letter," according to a statement released by the military archdiocese to Catholic News Service Feb. 6.

The two also agreed to McHugh's suggestion that one line, which read "We cannot -- we will not -- comply with this unjust law," be removed from the letter because of "the concern that it could potentially be misunderstood as a call to civil disobedience," the statement added.

"The issue was quickly resolved and the archdiocese considers this matter closed," John Schlageter, general counsel for the archdiocese, said in an email to CNS Feb. 7.

Panel rules California voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional

WASHINGTON -- By a 2-1 vote, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the California ban on same-sex marriage, saying that it violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees citizens due process and equal protection under the law.

The majority opinion, issued Feb. 7, said that the state, which had given homosexual couples the right to marry, could not revoke that right.

Washington state moves closer to legalizing gay marriage

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Opponents of gay marriage promised a fight at the ballot box after the state Senate on Wednesday took a major step toward making Washington the seventh state to allow same-sex marriage.

After passing the Senate 28 to 21, the bill is now headed for expected approval in the House and on to Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, who has promised to sign it.

"There's still a lot of work to be done, we have to be diligent, but we're confident that this legislation will make it to the governor's desk," said Zach Silk of Washington United for Marriage, a statewide coalition fighting for marriage equality.

Opponents, however, are putting up a fight. They will have until July to collect more than 150,000 signatures to put the measure to a public vote on the November ballot.

"I am happy it passed, but it will undoubtedly face a referendum in the fall, so it's too soon to begin talking about what it all means," said Rev. Bill Ellis, dean of Spokane's Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

Obama says faith mandates him to care for the poor

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama connected his faith with his policies toward the poor at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, a subtle but sharp contrast to remarks made by presidential hopeful Mitt Romney the day before.

"Living by the principle that we are our brother's keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need," Obama said before an audience of about 3,000 at the Washington Hilton. These values, he said, "they're the ones that have defined my own faith journey."

Specifically, Obama said, they translate to policies that support research to fight disease and support foreign aid. His faith, he continued, inspires him "to give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy."

Romney has come under fire for telling CNN on Wednesday that "I'm not concerned about the very poor," but is instead focused on the middle class. He later said his remarks were taken out of context, and promised to fix any holes in the safety net protecting the impoverished.

Which Catholics are against contraception coverage?

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COMMENTARY

There's a battle brewing in America, one that is at the very heart of religious freedom, separation of church and state, and of individual conscience.

Or so one might think in listening to the U.S. Catholic bishops and some conservative Catholic and Christian media.

They argue against the Obama administration's requirement that health care coverage for women mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act include contraception, and that "that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith," according to one bishop's letter to his diocese.

Right still reads Falwell's playbook

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Analysis

Religion in America has long been prominent in the public square, but it is only recently that the primary face of religion in political discourse has been the face of conservative evangelical Christianity. The outsize role of conservative evangelicals in the Republican Party nominating process attests to the success of a group of conservative pastors such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the Rev. Pat Robertson and others in representing the views of their adherents and bringing their flocks to the polls.

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