Catholics in the United States have reacted with dismay after the Obama administration turned down repeated requests from Catholic bishops, hospitals, schools and charitable organisations to revise its religious exemption to the requirement that all health plans cover contraceptives and sterilisation free of charge.
Instead, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, announced yesterday that non-profit groups that do not provide contraceptive coverage because of their religious beliefs will get an additional year â€œto adapt to this new ruleâ€.
â€œThis decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty,â€ Mrs Sebelius said. â€œI believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.â€
But Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said the Obama administration had â€œdrawn an unprecedented line in the sandâ€ with the decision.
â€œThe Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation,â€ he added. â€œWe will continue to study all the implications of this troubling decision.â€
Mrs Sebelius announced the mandate and a narrow religious exemption to it on August 1, 2011. Under the plan, after August 1 this year, new or significantly altered health plans will be required to provide all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, including some that can cause abortions, without co-pays or deductibles as part of preventive health care for women. [More]