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Minnesota bishops write to Sebelius in opposition to free birth control mandate

Minnesota’s Catholic bishops sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Thursday urging her department to drop a mandate on health insurance companies to cover birth control as part of their health plans.

The bishops argue that entities like Catholic Charities would have to offer insurance plans to their employees that offer coverage for contraceptives or else stop providing health benefits to employees.“While we support providing access to those services which can truly prevent disease or disability for woman such as pap smears and mammograms, we join other persons of good will who strenuously object to mandatory coverage for contraceptives and sterilization procedures,” the bishops wrote in the letter (PDF).

In August, the Obama administration announced that it would mandate that private health insurance cover women’s health care services such as cancer screenings, domestic violence support and birth control. The Catholic Church believes that birth control methods other than the rhythm method are sinful.

The bishops said the rule would “require taxpayers and providers to act against deeply-held convictions regarding the sanctity of life, as the promotion and provision of drugs like “Ella” (ulipristal acetate) and other abortifacient agents are enabled by this mandate.”

Coverage of abortion services is not included in the mandate. Calling drugs like Ella abortifacients is not the legal definition; they don’t actually cause abortions. However, as Christianity Today noted, the Catholic Church and other conservative Christians view the drug as abortion-inducing from a moral perspective.

The bishops also object to the current “conscience clause” in the mandate.

A religious organization is exempt from the mandate so long as it “has as the inculcation of religious values as its purpose, primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets, and primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.”

The bishops worry that religious charities would either have to provide health coverage that offers birth control or opt not t cover their employees at all.

“By exempting only those who employ and/or serve persons of the same religious tradition from its mandates, Catholic health care providers—the safety net for many of our marginalized sisters and brothers—cannot enjoy the exception without abandoning our mission, to the significant detriment of those in need.”

“Requiring Catholic individuals and institutions to pay for and provide abortion drugs and contraceptives contrary to Catholic teaching in the name of ‘reproductive autonomy’ is an unprecedented attack on the cherished liberties of religious and associational freedom,” said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Roman Catholic Church in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s Catholic bishops are the latest in a long list of Catholic institutions that have spoken out against the policy, as have Catholic hospitals. At least 18 Catholic institutions of higher learning have come out against the rule as well as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

But, as our sister site the Florida Independent recently reported, not all Catholics agree with the hierarchy. In fact, some see the exception for religious institutions as dangerous for women.

“In allowing religious institutions to refuse to include contraceptive services in the health insurance plans they offer their employees, the Obama administration has once again sided with the Catholic bishops over the needs of women and their families,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “The multi-billion dollar Catholic health care industry has a lot of influence with this administration, influence that it has now used to allow religious institutions to ride roughshod over the needs of their workers. Not only that, it ignores the consciences of those who decide that to use a modern method of family planning is what is best for them and their families.”

In fact, recent polling suggests that most Catholic women could benefit from the mandate. A poll released in April showed that only 2 percent of sexually active women followed Catholic teaching on birth control. Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women have used some form of birth control that is banned by the Church.

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