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In California, whose religious exemption served as the model for the Obama administration, dioceses and some church-run agencies were able to self-insure, said Carol Hogan of the California Catholic Conference, but that option is for the most part unavailable under the federal health care law. Church-run groups could have stopped offering insurance to their employees, but considered that option unfair to workers.
The bishops have responded sharply to the regulation, launching a nationwide campaign against the mandate.
Bishops in more than 140 dioceses issued statements that were read at Mass last weekend. Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., called the requirement "a radical incursion on the part of our government into freedom of conscience." Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh wrote that "the Obama administration was essentially saying `to hell with you,' particularly to the Catholic community by dismissing our beliefs, our religious freedom and our freedom of conscience."
The Becket Fund had previously filed two federal lawsuits over the regulations on behalf of Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic liberal arts school near Charlotte, N.C., and Colorado Christian University, an evangelical school near Denver. Both challenge the mandate as a violation of several freedoms, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says the government cannot impose a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion. The fine for Belmont Abbey would be more than $300,000 for the first year, and more than $500,000 for Colorado Christian, Smith, the Becket Fund counsel, said.
Many conservatives are also supporting legislation by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., that would codify a series of exceptions to the new health care law on religious and conscience grounds
For religious-affiliated employers, the requirement will take effect Aug. 1, 2013, and their workers in most cases will have access to coverage starting Jan. 1, 2014. Women working for secular enterprises, from profit-making companies to government, will have access to the new coverage starting Jan. 1, 2013, in most cases.
Workplace health plans will have to cover all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration, ranging from the pill to implantable devices to sterilization. Also covered is the morning-after pill, which can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex and is considered tantamount to an abortion drug by some religious conservatives.
There is no mandate to cover abortions. But that is little comfort to Catholic leaders, since the regulation violates other church teachings.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that the administration will not reconsider the decision.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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