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Bishops Vow to Fight Coercive HHS Mandate

On January 20, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reaffirmed a rule forcing nearly all private health plans to include coverage for all FDA-approved prescription contraceptive drugs and devices, as well as surgical sterilization.  These are listed among "preventive services for women" that all health plans will have to cover without co-pays or other cost-sharing – regardless of whether the insurer, the employer or other plan sponsor, or even the woman herself objects to such coverage.

For non-profit religious employers that do not now provide such coverage, and are not exempt under the rule’s extremely narrow definition of religious employer, the rule will go into effect on August 2013 and employers' new policies would have to be implemented by January 2014.  The exemption provided for “religious employers” is so narrow that it fails to cover the vast majority of faith-based organizations, including Catholic hospitals, universities, and service organizations that help millions every year.

The bishops along with Catholic partners including the Catholic Health Association, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and other Catholic and religious allies, had vigorously argued against the mandate and encouraged a broader exemption that would include religious institutions and ministries.

Responding to the announcement, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), stated:  “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.” Cardinal-designate Dolan continued:  “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.”

The bishops are urging Catholics and others of good will to take action in defense of conscience rights and religious liberty.  The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act has been introduced in Congress (H.R. 1179, S. 1467).  This measure will ensure that those who participate in the health care system “retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions.”  It is more important than ever that Members of Congress be urged to co-sponsor this measure.

Cardinal DiNardo, chair of the bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, urged Congress to support conscience protection legislation in light of the new HHS rule and the "unprecedented threat to religious freedom" it poses.

Please join your voice with his:

• Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121, or call the local offices of your Members of Congress.  Additional contact information can be found on the Members’ websites at and

Write to Congress supporting the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179, S. 1467) (linked through the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment Action Center).

• For more information and resources on the HHS mandate and its inadequate conscience protection, visit

• Over 400 Catholic leaders are calling on Congress and the Administration to protect conscience rights in health care.  The open letter appeared as a full page ad featuring over 150 of those leaders in the New York Times and the Washington Post on December 21.

Please continue to urge your Representative and Senators to co-sponsor and support the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.

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