Catholic Bishops Rep: Obama Mandate Compromise Maybe Worse

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 8, 2012   |   12:20PM   |   Washington, DC

The Obama administration is reportedly considering a compromise on its new mandate that has caused national outrage because it forces religious employers to cover birth control and drugs that may cause abortions. However, the leading pro-life spokesman for the Catholic bishops says the compromise may be worse.

The compromise under consideration by Obama officials reportedly involves applying Hawaii’s contraception mandate at the federal level — a mandate where employees at religious institutions that do not offer birth control and drugs like Plan B or ella can receive it through side benefits not offered by their employer. Employees pay an additional fee but often end up getting the coverage at no cost.

But Richard Doerflinger tells the Weekly Standard the Hawaii model “may be worse” because it would still have Catholic and other religious employers sending women for coverage for drugs that violate their moral beliefs.

He writes: “It’s difficult to know what people may mean by the “Hawaii compromise.”  But a central feature of the Hawaii law is that every religious organization that is eligible for the exemption has to instruct all employees in how they can access all methods of contraception and sterilization locally “in an expeditious manner.”

“Just a few days ago the White House was saying that this is just about coverage, that no one has to be involved in getting people to the actual services they object to.  It would be no improvement to say:  “Sure, you don’t have to include the coverage, you just have to send all your lay employees and women religious to the local Planned Parenthood clinic.”  The Administration’s press release of January 20 hinted at such a requirement,” Doerflinger continued. “That would not be a compromise. In some ways it would be worse.”

Doerflinger talked with the National Catholic Register as well and added, “I’ve reviewed the Hawaii law, and it’s not much of a compromise. The Hawaii contraceptive mandate has many of the same features as the new federal mandate.”

He told the Catholic paper, the Hawaii bill “covers all FDA-approved ‘contraceptives’ (including drugs that can cause an abortion); and the religious exemption is very narrow (though it does not include the requirement that the religious organization serve only people of its own faith to be eligible). It adds an extra feature — the requirement that any religious organization that is exempt must still tell all enrollees how they may directly access contraceptive services and supplies in an expeditious manner.”

Recently, Obama administration officials have suggested the White House may back off the controversial mandate that Catholics and pro-life advocates are up in arms about because it forces religious groups to cover birth control and drugs that may cause abortions.

David Axelrod, a top adviser to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, told MSNBC, “I think we need to lower our voices and get together.”

“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms, so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,” he said.

“The president and the administration will move forward, but with a grace period or time period in order to work this thing through,” Axelrod added. “We want to resolve it in an appropriate way.”

Meanwhile, Pastor Joel C. Hunter, a Florida pastor who is a close Obama ally and a member of his faith council, told the Washington Post today that several religious groups with close ties to Obama officials have approached the administration about changing the mandate.

Congressman Steve Scalise has led a bipartisan letter with 154 co-signers calling on the Obama Administration to reverse its unconstitutional mandate forcing religious organizations to include drugs that can cause abortion and birth control in the health care plans of their employees.

Bishops across the country have spoken out against the mandate and are considering a lawsuit against it — with bishops in more than 164 locations across the United States issuing public statements against it or having letters opposing it printed in diocesan newspaper or read from the pulpit.

“We cannot — we will not comply with this unjust law,” said the letter from Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix. “People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens.”

Responding to the announcement, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated: “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”

“To force Americans to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. . . It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom,” he added.

The mandate is so egregious that even the normally reliably liberal and pro-abortion USA Today condemned it in an editorial titled, “Contraception mandate violates religious freedom.”

The administration initially approved a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine suggesting that it force insurance companies to pay for birth control and drugs that can cause abortions under the Obamacare government-run health care program.

The IOM recommendation, opposed by pro-life groups, called for the Obama administration to require insurance programs to include birth control — such as the morning after pill or the ella drug that causes an abortion days after conception — in the section of drugs and services insurance plans must cover under “preventative care.” The companies will likely pass the added costs on to consumers, requiring them to pay for birth control and, in some instances, drug-induced abortions of unborn children in their earliest days.

The HHS accepted the IOM guidelines that “require new health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive services” and those services include “FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling” — which include birth control drugs like Plan B and ella that can cause abortions. The Health and Human Services Department commissioned the report from the Institute, which advises the federal government and shut out pro-life groups in meetings leading up to the recommendations.