The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is not satisfied with changes the Obama administration proposed earlier this month to the contraceptive mandate.
Administration officials promised the bishops the Catholic Church would not have to “refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, said in a prepared statement issued Thursday. The bishops are still waiting for the government to fulfill that promise.
On Feb. 1, the administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the mandate, the last step before making it law. The mandate requires all businesses and organizations with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptive and abortifacient drugs. Churches are exempted from the rule, but religious non-profits and private business owners must comply.
The NPRM accommodates religious organizations by requiring insurers to provide the coverage to employees separately, for free. But Dolan said that doesn’t adequately acknowledge the freedom religious ministries have under the U.S. Constitution. It also fails to recognize the conscience rights of private business owners who want to run their companies according to their religious beliefs, he said.
In issuing the NPRM, the administration had hoped to forestall at least some of the 46 legal challenges pending against the mandate. But all the organizations fighting the rule said the proposed changes didn’t go far enough.
The government will take comments on the proposed changes until April 5. Dolan said the bishops would redouble their efforts to overcome obstacles to providing healthcare for all but freedom for few.
“Thus, we welcome and will take seriously the administration's invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all,” Dolan said. “At the same time, 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.”