Catholic Bishops To Sue Feds Over Contraception, Insurance Rules

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is promising a legal challenge to federal rules the Obama administration reaffirmed Friday requiring health insurers to provide women with a range of preventive health services, including birth control, without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or deductible.

The Department of Health and Human Services made no changes to a rule released in August that exempted some religious organizations, like those that employ or serve people who follow its religion, from the requirement. But religious organizations that do not meet those qualifications would be required to provide contraceptive coverage to employees. While churches are exempt, for example, religious universities and hospitals are not.

The rule goes into effect Aug. 1. Religious institutions that aren’t exempt get an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the regulation.

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she believed Friday’s announcement “strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”

Abortion rights opponents had challenged the rule, which is part of the health law, arguing that contraception violates the religious beliefs of some Americans, and that some forms of emergency contraception, including Plan B, are akin to early abortion. Religious groups also wanted a broader exemption. Friday’s announcement didn’t make them any happier.

“There really is no change,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the bishops. “What has been announced is that they are going to delay an enforcement. It’s as if they said ‘We’ll give you a year to figure out how to violate your conscience.’” The bishops’ group “will fight this edict; they have no choice but to fight this edict,” she said.

Other Catholic organizations were also upset. The Catholic Health Association called Friday’s announcement “a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection,” Sister Carol Keehan, president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. [More]