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Bishop: Conscience protection must be legislated

WASHINGTON -- Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said the ongoing debate over a federal mandate requiring employers, including most religious entities, to provide no-cost contraception and sterilization coverage demonstrates the need that a religious right to conscience protection be enacted into federal law.

"Our religious freedom is too precious to be protected only by regulations," Bishop Lori said in a Feb. 13 phone interview with Catholic News Service. "It needs legislative protection."

"More legislators, I think, are looking at it. There's more bipartisan support for it. There should be a lot of pressure exerted on Congress to pass it and for the president to sign it," he said.

Among the bills under consideration is the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, introduced by U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.

Bishops take hard line toward contraception compromise

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Three days after President Barack Obama announced a revision to a controversial mandate regarding coverage of contraceptive services in health care plans, key leaders in the U.S. bishops’ conference have indicated dissatisfaction with the compromise, taking a hard line and saying they will be satisfied only by a full rescission of the mandate.

USCCB official: Mandate still violates religious liberty

WASHINGTON -- A revision in a federal health care mandate that would shift the payment of contraception and sterilization coverage from religious employers to health insurance companies still infringes upon religious liberty and must be addressed, said an official of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The mandate's narrow exemption for religious organizations and how the revision pertains to self-insured parties, like many dioceses and Catholic organizations, could still force entities morally opposed to contraception to pay for such services, said John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

"The fact is we have to go back to the beginning," Carr told several hundred people during the opening session of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering Feb. 12. "The best way to get out of this is to not get into it. We should not have the government deciding what's a ministry or not. We need the administration to revise it, we need the Congress to repeal it or we need the courts to stop it."

Bishops studying revised contraception mandate

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Following news that President Barack Obama has decided to revise a controversial mandate requiring contraceptive coverage in health care plans, several of the groups who expressed the most concern about the mandate are trying to sort out whether they will support the revision, while others have already rejected it outright.

An initial statement from the bishops’ conference said the conference was “studying” the revised mandate.

White House fact sheet regarding contraception mandate

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THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 10, 2012

FACT SHEET: Women’s Preventive Services and Religious Institutions

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance plans will cover women’s preventive services, including contraception, without charging a co-pay or deductible beginning in August, 2012. This new law will save money for millions of Americans and ensure Americans nationwide get the high-quality care they need to stay healthy.

Today, President Obama will announce that his Administration will implement a policy that accommodates religious liberty while protecting the health of women. Today, nearly 99 percent of all women have used contraception at some point in their lives, but more than half of all women between the ages of 18-34 struggle to afford it.

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.

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