US Conference of Catholic Bishops Rejects HHS Mandate Compromise

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to the proposed accommodations for religious groups in the Affordable Care Act, declaring that it "falls short" of expectations and does not address the bishops' concerns.

"Throughout the past year, we have been assured by the Administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage. We remain eager for the Administration to fulfill that pledge and to find acceptable solutions – we will affirm any genuine progress that is made, and we will redouble our efforts to overcome obstacles or setbacks," Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, said in a Thursday statement.

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services sought to broaden the list of groups that can claim a religious status and thus apply for an exemption to the contraceptive mandate. The controversial provision forces employers to provide insurance coverage to their employees that includes access to birth control, which is against official Roman Catholic Church doctrine.

"Today, the administration is taking the next step in providing women across the nation with coverage of recommended preventive care at no cost, while respecting religious concerns," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "We will continue to work with faith-based organizations, women's organizations, insurers and others to achieve these goals."

The proposed compromise was in response to the many lawsuits filed against the mandate this past year, with high-ranking Catholic universities and institutions leading the protest against the Obamacare provision. Christian-owned companies like Hobby Lobby, as well as Christian-oriented businesses and schools have all filed lawsuits against the government's birth control mandate.

"We had to ensure that women have access to preventive services like contraception and that the policy respects religious beliefs," White House spokesman Jay Carney said of last week's compromise. But several conservative groups, like the Susan B. Anthony List and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty have argued that the exemptions do not go far enough.

The Catholic bishops have now added their voices to the dissent, with Cardinal Dolan promising that Catholics will continue fighting the mandate and seeking an acceptable solution through further dialogue with the White House.

"It appears that the government would require all employees in our 'accommodated' ministries to have the illicit coverage – they may not opt out, nor even opt out for their children – under a separate policy," Cardinal Dolan said while describing some of the problems he found with the proposed compromise.

The USCCB leader added that it is still unclear how separate policies would be funded by objecting ministries, and what role those ministries would have in arranging for these separate policies. "Thus, there remains the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities."

Cardinal Dolan stated that business owners with a moral objection to the mandate also should be allowed to act according to their faith and moral values.

"Because the stakes are so high, we will not cease from our effort to assure that healthcare for all does not mean freedom for few," the cardinal insisted. "We will continue to stand united with brother bishops, religious institutions, and individual citizens who seek redress in the courts for as long as this is necessary."

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