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 CNS Story:

HHS-ROUNDUP Mar-2-2012 (940 words) With photos. xxxn

More 'confusion than clarity' about HHS mandate, Cardinal Dolan says

By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said there is more "confusion than clarity" in the revised federal contraceptive mandate.

In a March 1 blog entry on the New York archdiocesan website, the cardinal said the U.S. bishops will "keep up advocacy and education on the issue" and "continue to seek a rescinding of the suffocating mandates that require us to violate our moral convictions."

San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer in a Feb. 27 column in the San Francisco Chronicle said the troubling aspect of the revised HHS mandate was "not about contraception, but about religious liberty."

The mandate, announced Jan. 20 by Health and Human Services' Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, requires no-cost coverage of all contraceptives approved by Food and Drug Administration, including some that can cause an abortion, as well as sterilizations, as part of preventive health services for women. A narrow religious exemption applies only to those employed by houses of worship.

In a revision announced Feb. 10, President Barack Obama said religious employers could decline to cover contraceptives if they were morally opposed to them, but the health insurers that provide their health plans would be required to offer contraceptives free of charge to women who requested such coverage.

U.S. bishops and other religious leaders continue to press for rescission of the HHS contraceptive mandate, saying it violates religious liberties.

Cardinal Dolan, in his blog posting, said he is putting more hope in finding a resolution to this issue through Congress or the courts than the White House. "We have to be realistic and prepare for tough times," he said.

He also disputed the opinion expressed in an editorial in the March 5 edition of America magazine, which said the bishops' objection to the revised mandate is primarily "a difference over policy" and seemed to "press the religious liberty campaign too far."

Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, also took issue with the editorial in a March 2 letter to the editor. In reference to the editorial's call for civility and a "conciliatory style," he said: "Maybe Moses wasn't at his best when he confronted Pharaoh. Maybe the Good Shepherd was a bit off his game when he confronted the rulers of his day."

In his column, Archbishop Niederauer acknowledged "the issue of contraception is extremely important in American society," but also pointed out that there are "frameworks though which the government's desire to make contraceptives widely available and affordable, and the Catholic Church's desire not to be involved in supplying contraceptives that conflict with Catholic faith, can both be accomplished."

In a March 1 congressional subcommittee hearing, Sebelius said she was confident an acceptable compromise could be reached in the health care law to allow self-insured religiously affiliated institutions to provide contraception access without violating their religious beliefs.

"There are a variety of arrangements already in place in the 28 states that have this law already in place and we intend to be informed by that when we propose the rules," Sebelius told members of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee during a hearing about the HHS's 2013 budget proposal.

"Whether it's through a third-party administrator or a side-by-side plan or many other arrangements, we will offer a variety of strategies to make sure that religious liberties are respected," she said. Sebelius was responding to a question by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who asked about possible penalties for religious employers that fail to comply with the HHS mandate to offer contraceptive drugs that violate their religious principles.

Upton said a Catholic hospital in his state would likely be subject to fines of more than $1 billion.

Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., who chaired the hearing, read a statement from Catholic Charities USA emphasizing that the organization did not endorse the revised HHS mandate and shared the "goal of the U.S. Catholic bishops to uphold religious liberty."

More than 4,500 women have signed a letter urging Obama, Sebelius and Congress "to allow religious institutions and individuals to continue to witness to their faiths in all their fullness."

The open letter from women was organized by Helen Alvare, who teaches law at George Mason University School of Law, and Kim Daniels, former counsel to the Thomas More Law Center, under the banner, Women Speak for Themselves (http://womenspeakforthemselves.com).

"No one speaks for all women on these issues," the letter says. "Those who purport to do so are simply attempting to deflect attention from the serious religious liberty issues currently at stake.

The Senate voted 51-48 March 1 to table the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, also called the Blunt amendment for its chief sponsor, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

The act would have allowed church-affiliated organizations, including Catholic charities, hospitals, schools and universities, to opt out of mandated contraception coverage and would have extended exemptions to any nonreligious employer with a moral objection to such coverage.

Under the amendment, any employer also would have been allowed to refuse to cover any other preventive health care procedures required under the rule if they held a moral or religious objection.

Bishop Lori said in a statement after the vote that the bishops will continue their strong defense of conscience rights for all people.

"The need to defend citizens' rights of conscience is the most critical issue before our country right now," Bishop Lori said. "We will continue our defense of conscience rights through all available legal means. Religious freedom is at the heart of democracy and rooted in the dignity of every human person."


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