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Catholic Bishops Reject Compromise On Contraceptives

It seems the third time wasn't the charm, after all.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has officially rejected the Obama Administration's latest attempt to ensure that women with health insurance get access to no-cost contraceptive coverage without violating the rights of religious employers.

The administration issued the rules last Friday. While other groups that oppose abortion and birth control immediately dismissed the proposal, the influential bishops held back, saying only that they "welcomed the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely."

Now, however, it's clear that this attempt by the administration doesn't clear the bar for the bishops, either.

The proposal calls for insurance companies — rather than religious hospitals, universities or charities — to provide contraceptive and sterilization coverage. But that's not good enough, said a statement from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the conference.

"It appears that the government would require all employees in our 'accommodated' ministries to have the illicit coverage — they may not opt out, nor even opt out for their children — under a separate policy," Dolan said.

He also complained that while the rules seek to accommodate nonprofit religious employers (including churches themselves, which are exempt from the coverage requirement, along with affiliated entities like educational institutions), they don't relieve for-profit employers of the obligation.

"In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath," said Dolan, referring to owners of non-religious businesses who are suing the federal government because they say the coverage violates their personal religious beliefs. "We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences."

Compared with some of Dolan's previous complaints about contraceptive coverage requirements, the latest statement was more measured. "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," he said.

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