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White House Press Secretary on HHS contraception mandate:

The topic came up twice during today's White House press briefing -- first at minute 14:37 and again at minute 25:45 (transcript below):

Q Second topic -- the Catholic Church. It was a pretty extraordinary situation on Sunday in parishes all across the country, individual priests were reading letters from their bishops in that particular parish that were pretty much denouncing the Obama administration about these provisions dealing with contraception, Catholic hospitals and whatnot in connection with the Affordable Care Act. I guess my question would be, how does the administration justify having the federal government institute a law that basically forces people to violate their religious beliefs?MR. CARNEY: Well, that misrepresents actually what the --Q How so?

MR. CARNEY: -- decision about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act --Q How does that misrepresent --MR. CARNEY: Well, let me -- let me -- let me answer. The decision was made, as we have said in the past and Secretary Sebelius has said, after very careful consideration, and the administration believes that this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing access to important preventive services. We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.Its important -- to go to your point -- that this approach does not signal any change at all in the administrations policy on conscience protections. The President and this administration have previously expressed strong support for existing conscience protections, including those relating to health care providers. That support continues.I also would just note that our robust partnerships with the Catholic Church and other communities of faith will continue. The administration has provided over $2 billion to Catholic organizations over the past three years in addition to numerous nonfinancial partnerships that promote healthy communities and serve the common good.Q The bishops are saying just the opposite. Theyre saying that basically if somebody is working in a Catholic hospital and they dont cover contraception for their employees, that theyre in violation of federal law. So I dont understand how youre saying that there are still conscience protections. They would violate the law, wouldnt they?MR. CARNEY: Well, this does not direct an individual to do anything, first of all. The new guidelines require most private health plans to cover preventive services, including contraception, for women without charging a copay, coinsurance or deductible.The guidelines were recommended by the nonpartisan, independent Institute of Medicine. The administration also released a proposed regulation that allows nonprofit, religious employers that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services.After reviewing comments from the public, the administration announced that the final rule on preventive health services will ensure that women with health insurance coverage will have access to the full range of recommended preventive services, including all FDA-approved forms of contraception.And I would just note that we will work with religious groups during a transitional period to discuss their concerns. But this decision was made after careful consideration by Secretary Sebelius, and we believe that the proposal strikes the appropriate balance between religious beliefs on the one hand and the need to increase access to important preventive services for women.Q Last thing on this. E.J. Dionne, though -- I mean, a lot of Republicans have attacked -- but a Democrat whos Catholic, E.J. Dionne, wrote in The Washington Post yesterday that the President, in his words, utterly botched this policy. And he said he, threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus. So despite everything you just read, you have Democratic Catholics saying that thats not true.MR. CARNEY: The idea that there are people who disagree -- well, Ed, all youre pointing out is that there are people who disagree with the decision. We understand that not everyone agrees with it. All I can tell you is it was made after very careful consideration based on the need to balance those two issues and that the necessity to provide access to preventive services for women was an important consideration.Q What about the constitutional right to freedom of religion? Is that still --MR. CARNEY: I dont believe there are any constitutional rights issues here, but I would refer you to others to discuss that. Thats not -- I understand that theres controversy and we understand that and we will continue to work with religious groups to discuss their concerns. But on the other side of this was the important need to provide access to women to the preventive services that they require.And the thing you just read to me was a political observation. This was a policy based on the merits.Q Jay, if I could follow up on that --MR. CARNEY: No, let me -- let me move around here.Q The bishop of Phoenix said Catholics shouldnt comply with this law. Will there be any consequences for not --MR. CARNEY: Im the wrong guy to ask.[...]Q Let me go back to the health insurance regulation for a second. You made the point that it was Secretary Sebeliuss decision. But isnt it the Presidents decision? And isnt he the one responsible --MR. CARNEY: Well, sure --Q -- ultimately?MR. CARNEY: Its an HHS -- as I understand it, an HHS process, but we -- the President concurs in the decision and in the need to find an appropriate balance between religious beliefs and access to preventive services for women.Q But its been pointed out by a number of people that it would have been easy to find a compromise that didnt require Catholic hospitals to go against the beliefs of their faith in order to serve everybody.MR. CARNEY: Well, Im not sure that -- its easy to say that things are easy when youre saying it from the outside. The balance here that was sought was found, an appropriate balance between religious beliefs and the need for access to preventive services.Q It was quite clear that a lot of people dont feel that theres any balance here, that it is, in fact, an infringement of their ability to practice their faith.MR. CARNEY: Well, again, Bill, I can keep telling you our view. I certainly appreciate that there are folks out there who disagree, but this was done with a full awareness of the concerns that have been expressed on both sides of this issue, and a decision that was made on the policy merits that also weighed the very issues that I described.I think its fair to say that while there are those who take issue with the decision, millions and millions of Americans -- American women will have access to preventive services, as they should, appropriately, though the health care reform bill.

Transcript here.And: Sr. Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, has issued the following statement on the mandate, titled "Something Has To Be Fixed":

CHA and its members were profoundly disappointed to learn that the definition of a religious employer was not going to be broadened in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' rules for preventive services for women.

The impact of being told we do not fit the new definition of a religious employer and therefore cannot operate our ministries following our consciences has jolted us. The contributions of Catholic health care, education and social services to this country's development are legion. They have responded to the needs of all, not just Catholics. They have been delivered by many who do not share our faith, but share our commitment.From President Thomas Jefferson to President Barack Obama, we have been promised a respect for appropriate religious freedom. The first amendment to our Constitution affirms it. We are a pluralistic country, and it takes respectful dialogue to sort this out fairly. This decision was a missed opportunity.CHA has expressed concern and disappointment about this on behalf of the ministry. We have said the problem is not resolved, and we must have a national conversation on this. CHA is working closely with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and others to look at options to resolve this. We will be discussing it at the CHA board meeting on Feb. 8.I assure you that we will use the time to pursue a correction during the one-year extension. We will give this issue priority and consult with members and experts as we evaluate options to deal with this. Any suggestions, comments or questions are welcome. I promise to keep the membership informed as we move along in this effort. Please keep this important effort in your prayers as well.


Commenting Guidelines you know who "Ed," the questioner is?

Grant, what about a poll so commenters can express their opinions anonymously?Q. Will President Obama's decision on the Affordable Care Act cause you to vote against him? A. Yes.A. No.

I choose A.

Well, I choose A.

I think Carney did a good job.

I think the question about administration's silence about the use of nd killings by drones after the second question is more disturbing than his prepeared answer on healthcare. I haven't heard of any episcopal letters or of any bishops getting at all worked up about that part of American policy. The hierarchy continues its focus on reproduction and calls itself "pro life."

I agree with Eric.Seems to me that Carney is correct:"The balance here that was sought was found, an appropriate balance between religious beliefs and the need for access to preventive services."The state has upheld the Common Good.God Bless

Q. Will President Obamas decision on the Affordable Care Act cause you to vote against him?A. No. And in fact I wrote to him and told him I thought he made a good decision and that I would vote for him, even though I'm Catholic.

The bishops silence on drones is certainly worth remarking upon but it has nothing at all to do with this question. This is the government telling the churches they must pay for abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization, in direct conflict with the conscience of the church. One can disagree with the church on the question of sterilization or contraception and still understand that this is a move too far by the administration. Their idea of "balance" is that the churches can either comply or get out of the business of serving their communities and the needs of the less fortunate. To say "our way or go away" is hardly "the right balance."

I neglected to add, I choose A.

If Obama does not change course, Sr. Keehan should give Obama back his pen and Fr. Jenkins should rescind Obama's honorary degree. Preferably, Fr. Jenkins should rescind the honorary degree during televised coverage of the Notre Dame game closest to the election.

"Eric Bugyis 01/31/2012 - 5:42 pm subscriberI think Carney did a good job."Shocker.

You're right, of course, Clamato, that it has absolutely nothing to do with this exact question, but it has much to do with the preoccupations and guts of the hierarchy. They can clamor about this issue and coverage for women in what I still thnik is a misapplied evaluation of material cooperation and total confusion about the other uses of reproductive medications and the policies that exist in their own hospitals emergency rooms, but have they even taken any time to address our continued national bellicosity?

Thorin, that sounds a little passive aggressive. Why not preach the Good News, convert hearts and minds, work at bringing about the Kingdom and ushering in a community of Love where there is no longer any need for coercive law, but only the Law of Love graciously given and graciously received. You know, actual religious practice. Then again, I suppose politics might work too, afterall we all know what happens to those who love their enemies.

The Obama Administration has chosen the most restictive exemption to the contraception mandate (modeled after the one in place in only 4 of the 28 dtates that mandate such coverage) and chosen to provide women access to "preventive services" by way of a means that is much more restrictive of religious liberty than the alternatives. In doing so, HHS has violated the federal religious freedom restoration act: for this rule to get struck down in the courts before the yearlong delay is up thanks to Belmont Abey College:

Between A and A, I choose A.

I think the poll question is confusing .... the question was basically: "Will you vote against Obama because of this?" And the options given are A = yes, and A = no ;)To restate - I *will* vote for Obama.

Crystal: me, too! Enough of this Catholic-centric one-issue politics.

I was not going to vote to re-elect President Obama in any case.I try to always vote for the pro-life, center-right or (if need be) center-left candidate.Mr. Obama is pro-choice and I think he tends too far to the hard-left.The only way I would vote to re-elect this president is if he 1) declared by word and deed that he has changed over to the pro-life viewpoint 2) brought the troops home from Afghanistan quickly 3) closed many of the overseas military bases

Mr. Bugyis,I know you disapprove, but what the bishops are trying to do is to preserve the liberty of the Church. That is an important goal, and one for which such great men as St. Thomas Becket and St. John Fisher gave their lives. I am not suggesting the bishops are of the same caliber as those great saints--would that they become so!--nor that the threat they are opposing is of the same caliber as the threat posed by Henry II and Henry VIII. But the bishops' goal is a worthy one.

It was obvious Carney knows this cannot stand. He was looking down and trying to hide behind the test he had prepared or given to him. He had very little to say on his own about this.At the very least, this administration is in for some really rough sledding regarding this. Worst case for President Obama is that this becomes a key factor in his losing re-election, whereupon the next president will be under great pressure to scrap the entire ACA.The Supreme Court might scrap or gut it anyway, on constitutional grounds. In any case Dionne is correct; the administration botched this one - big time.

Q. Will President Obamas decision on the Affordable Care Act cause you to vote against him?A better question is whether it would cause you to vote for the Republican nominee. Unless something unprecedented happens, it's going to be a two-person race, and while voting for a third-party candidate who has no chance of winning may make a statement, practically speaking it does no more to insure Obama's defeat than simply not voting.

Q. Will President Obamas decision on the Affordable Care Act cause you to vote against him?Is it permitted to vote against him for other reasons?I plan on doing a write-in vote for Bernie Sanders.

This is only one ingredient in the pot on which party you vote for. I think there are many more things to consider than this, such as how quick you want to go to the next war, who is going to take better care of the poor, who is going to govern toward social justice. I think I'll just wait until we get closer to the election. I'll then read the Sermon of the Mount and make my decision.

Ken, he already brought the troops home from Iraq. That's leaving the Iraqis in a sorry state, of course, but when the alternative is a prolonged, unpopular occupation, there is no good solution. Exiting, at least, cuts the losses. That's one accomplishment of his that undoes a little bit of the harm caused by eight years of Bush.

A. No. And in fact I wrote to him and told him I thought he made a good decision and that I would vote for him, even though Im Catholic.------------I did the same.

What does the $2 billion refer to?

From Carney's press briefing:"The guidelines were recommended by the nonpartisan, independent Institute of Medicine."I do not question the medical competency of the nonpartisan, independent Institute of Medicine, but what are its qualifications to speak authoritatively on constitutional law, political philosophy and sexual morality?

I think Sr. Carol Keehan has struck exactly the right tone and should probably lead the opposition, with the bishops and others that would be firebrands remaining silently in the background. If this is truly an egregious violation of the First Amendment, it will be declared unconstitutional. A show of grave concern is warranted. Threats of defiance and civil disobedience regarding something not scheduled to take effect for a year come close to demagoguery. So much of the reaction to this that I am seeing is barely disguised partisan politics on the part of Catholic conservative Republicans who are in essence saying, "See? We told you not to support Obama. Now you have to admit we were right!" I for one am extraordinarily glad we have President Obama rather than President McCain and Vice-President Sarah Palin! If Newt Gingrich is the Republican nominee, I am certainly not about to do anything that would increase his chances of election. (I don't quite know what to think of Romney. My current position is that he probably really is a "Massachusetts liberal," and consequently he doesn't scare me.)I do agree with Sr. Keehan that "something has to be fixed," but I think there are any number of ways of fixing it, and even if the mandate is not struck down, there are probably ways around it.

I do not question the medical competency of the nonpartisan, independent Institute of Medicine, but what are its qualifications to speak authoritatively on constitutional law, political philosophy and sexual morality?Jim,I posted information about the IOM in another thread, but I will just link to it here. Given the nature of the organization, I can only assume they are well aware of constitutional law and "political philosophy." I am not sure how deeply a body like the IOM should get into sexual morality. Public health policy is generally about health, not morality.

"Enough of this Catholic-centric one-issue politics."Jimmy Mac,Say what you will, but if President Obama wants to lose his slight edge with the Catholic electorate (24% of Americans), this "one-issue" could hurt him. The share of young people born in 1981 or later who identify themselves with Democrats has already dropped, compared with three yrs ago when two thirds of the nation's young people voted for him. Though more than half of the young people surveyed still have a favorable view of President Obama's job performance, the share has fallen substantially. Does he want this senario among Catholic voters? Polls show the Catholic vote shifting back and forth between the two major parties. Usually the Catholic vote is split between them. However, if Catholic conservatives, who take this "one-issue" very seriously, vote overwhelming for Romney (or Gingrich), President Obama could lose. Even by a couple of percentage points. And if moderate Catholics also don't vote for him, the outcome could be even worse. And in all this, it doesn't help that both Romney and Gingrich are now stating that Obama is attacking the Catholic Church. (And not one Catholic University president is saying the contrary.) For Catholic Democrats, this will get worse before it gets better.

Dear everyone: Stop leaving nasty and childish comments.

Polls show the Catholic vote shifting back and forth between the two major parties. Usually the Catholic vote is split between them_______________Is this a bad thing? Should we put party before Church? Or Church before party? Or are they on equal standing?

So the preferred status appears to be as follows: Catholics employed by secular employers will happily use their benefits to get free contraception, all the while whining that Obama didn't pay lip service (fealty?) to the Church by allowing hospitals and universities founded by Catholics to refuse to pay for the same kind of benefits to their mostly non-Catholic employees. I continue to believe, Ann, that your heart is really breaking over the fact that the Catholic Church is receding from the public space, from providing a vital, even necessary, voice on morality in the public sphere as it did for Civil Rights and now still sometimes does for Hispanic Catholics (anybody else read the articles on East Haven CT this week?). I would give a lot to try to get the Church to confront HV but I am sorry to say that this does not appear to be something the bishops need worry about at all, not when so many Catholics fall in line happy to continue the charade no matter what their heart tells them about the doctrine itself. Think I won't be commenting here anymore.

Barbara, I appreciate your voice and your passion on the many issues we discuss, and I hope you'll reconsider not commenting here anymore. Please stay.

Bender asks: Should we put party before Church? Or Church before party? Or are they on equal standing?Parties are temporal and change through times and trends. The church, even with all her problems, has the Eternal Word. But that doesn't matter. Party or church does not matter. In this instance what matters is this: What does the constitution say? Does this ruling in any way intrude upon the right to freedom of religion and the exercise thereof. Take the rest of your thoughts and feelings out of the equation, especially your feelings, and for God's sake rid yourself of emotions which only cloud things. Does telling a church that explicitly forbids in its teachings sterilization, contraception or the use of abortifacients amount to forcing free religious people to betray their consciences, if the only alternative is for them to become exclusive? It enters into the question of freedom of religion vs freedom of worship. They are very different things. Freedom of worship is what we get when we are forced out of the public square and into a religious ghetto where we may worship, as long as we keep it to ourselves.Freedom of religion allows us to remain fully engaged with the country. As tempting as it is to say "let's shut up the conservative ones and ghettoize them, at least" the brush doesn't only paint halfway. If you're content to watch the church removed from protests against the death penalty or criticisms of unjust wars (although I notice after Iraq most seemed to just go silent. Few Catholics have criticized any of our recent forays.) If you are content to see food pantries that only help Catholics, and so forth, then you can be content with the choices this HHS ruling gives us. If you are not content, and if you see fully how deftly this administration has corralled the church into either taking a stand or going away altogether, then you must object, and you must fight. It's really that simple.For clarity's sake, no, I will not be voting for Obama in '12. Many, many Catholics supported him in good faith. He has acted in bad faith, in return. A man who acts in bad faith, particularly in an election year, for God's sake, is a man who-given four years with no re-election to concern him-will do anything. He has demonstrated to us that he cannot be trusted.So, considering all that, now decide if voting with the party is what matters.

Say it ain't so, Barbara. We're on opposite sides of almost every issue discussed here but I find your comments invariably thought-provoking. And a welcome relief from the always popular knee-jerk reactions. Besides, you are so intelligent that it's just a matter of time until you eventually see the light and are able to help those of us fortunate enough to already be in the right to smite the misguided among us. :-)

If you are not content, and if you see fully how deftly this administration has corralled the church into either taking a stand or going away altogether, then you must object, and you must fight. Its really that simple.Clamato,Isn't that a bit over the top? The Church must take a stand or go away altogether? There is, after all, a religious exemption. It's just that the Church doesn't find it adequate. As I have said numerous times, I think there must be further compromise. But there is no war against the Catholic Church going on here.

Per Barbara So the preferred status appears to be as follows: Catholics employed by secular employers will happily use their benefits to get free contraception, all the while whining that Obama didnt pay lip service (fealty?) to the Church by allowing hospitals and universities founded by Catholics to refuse to pay for the same kind of benefits to their mostly non-Catholic employees.--------------------Your viewpoint is far too narrow Barbara. This issue should not have an emotional content; it is closer to subsidiarity than anything else. It is, or at least should be, about local control and money. I currently work under a union contract and regarding medical insurance, we have an agreement where we employees pay for a small portion of the premium and the employer pays for the majority of it.Now frankly do not like the fact that the insurance we have covers contraception. However it was negotiated years ago and at that time the management and union negotiators settled on the policy we have, brought it to the union members, and the majority voted to accept it. I understand the majority rules; this is America, not Rome. And so even though I am Catholic and do not approve of contraceptives, I tolerate what we have because the majority felt this policy would best serve the common good. During contract negotiations (every several years), changes to the benefits package come up in discussion among employees. I have raised the issue but the thinking is always something like Oh well, we have a reasonable policy, lets not rock the boat. This is California after all, where most folks favor contraceptives and see nothing wrong with abortion. In any case, guys do not want to open that portion of the contract because they fear losing ground; they would rather just leave that as-is and focus on pay. And that is where it stays; majority rules and the minorty must go along with it or find other work.I have worked under non-union arrangements and regarding benefits like these, while the process is less formal, the boss does take input from employees of his choosing in order to reach decisions on details like this.My point is not to bore you with the ins and outs of workers contract negotiations but rather, to point out that these sorts of things should be determined Locally not by some group of puffy and pampered ideological DC bureaucrats who have no idea what the real world is like.If we allow this to move to Washington DC, the current crop of bureaucrats (Democrats) will tack on contraceptives and eventually abortion. The when Republicans are elected, the agencies will be under new management and will remove contraceptives and abortion. Transferring this control and responsibility to un-elected federal bureaucrats will set up a back-and-forth swaying and swinging of health insurance that will help no one, and mire us down forever in emotional, often navel-gazing discussions of which benefits should be included this year.A national plan should only cover the basics, not things like free BC pills or IUDs.No Because these sorts of healthcare plan details are so personal and important, they should stay at the local level, under local control.

Barbara, i always like to read your comments.I took a quick look at Sr. Carol Keehan's response and, although I personally do not object to President Obama's decision, her reaction is so measured, diplomatic and thoughtful that I wish she were representing US Catholics in the public arena. I could easily imagine backing her even though her opinion does not exactly correspond to mine. She is as appealing as Abp Dolan is unappealing.

David Nickol wrote: "there is, after all a religious exemption."Yes, as I said there is an exemption to the Catholic ghetto.If you cannot be more intellectually honest than that, there's no point in discussing further.

Yes, as I said there is an exemption to the Catholic ghetto.If you cannot be more intellectually honest than that, theres no point in discussing further.Clamato,My point is that all sides recognize this as an issue where religious liberty is involved. There is no disagreement over that. The disagreement is over how narrow or how broad the exemption should be. I agree that it is not broad enough. I fail to see how that is not intellectually honest. I do not mind being told I am wrong, but I don't like being accused of lacking intellectual honesty.

Megan McArdle of the Atlantic, who is not religious, comes to the same conclusion as Bishop Zubik of Pittsburgh:

The church is not being required to dispense birth control.

I respect Sr. carol Keehan, Dc, and all that she has done for CHA and in promoting the ACA. Her call for dialogue is reasonable even if my strong inclination at this point is to support the HHS policy with the specific religious carve-outs even though they do generally apply the same way to health, educational, and social service Catholic institutions as we have all been commenting upon.However, for all who say that this is the deal breaker in voting for Obama-- at this very early point in the political season with so much yet to be talked out -- I respectfully challenge you in other blog columns throughout the year to make a positive case for the presumptive Republlican candidate who just boldly declared "I'm not concerned about the very poor... there are safety nets in place for them.' Ahhh, this a vision of Catholic social action that you could support?

My error in the previous post. I meant to write "carve outs even though they do NOT generally support." That is, I b elieve the First Amendment freedoms are protected in this approach, but I will listen carefully to other arguments.

I think Andy's comment was spot on and that the"question" of how one votes should turn on this one issue -and the answers -struck me as how sad things have become and how we've lost our balance. It makes me wonder about the balnce of the editorial staff here and I can see why Barbara is withdrawing.I'v e already said, apart from the merits of right or wrong, the way the matter is being pursued, on balance, is counterproductive.I sense more and more lots of "bubble" thinking about approaching the uS hierachy's habdling of matters and how important that is in the Church today.(a footnote: we should note the pasiing yesterday of Cardinal Bevilaqua in Philly. one report speaks of him as the premier canonist in his day in the US.Perhaps that tribute speaks volumes as well.)

As I pointed out on MoJ, the argument that vouchers don't violate the First Amendment by being government aid to religious schools is that the money goes to parents, and parents decide how to spend it. So it is not government aid to religious schools. On the other hand, the argument for the religious exemption for vouchers seems to be that when the insurance goes to the employee, and the employee uses it to purchase contraceptives, the employer is paying for contraceptives. So somehow, when you use a voucher, you "launder" the money, and it is not government money any more. But when you use insurance to pay for contraceptives, for some reason it is still considered the employer's money paying for them.

The church is not being required to dispense birth control.Grant,Not yet. But the requirement will be implemented in Obama's third term.

Mr. Gallich: The church is not being required to dispense birth control.No, she is only being required to pay for it, or for sterilization or abortifacient drugs. This is co-operation with evil. Mr. Nickol: I apologize for suggesting that you are intellectually dishonest. I should, perhaps have better suggested that you were being less intellectually rigorous in this matter than I have seen you at other times. To blithely say "there is a religious exemption" without delving into its narrowness -- which was purposeful, because this administration is too smart for it to have been anything but purposeful -- is a dangerous thing to do. The "religious exemption" offered by the administration is so inadequate that Christ himself could not qualify for it, and that is something everyone acknowledges. If that is all this administration was willing to concede, then their action can only be considered a deliberate provocation. Considering the church men and women who put themselves out for this administration, that's a profound betrayal, and I am afraid it demonstrates a true animus toward the very Catholics who helped seat this president. I am frankly shocked at the number of people still willing to defend the president in the face of this backstabbing, or who are content to mouth party lines or indulge their emotional attachments to old causes when this very new cause, for our very liberty, has arisen.