Obama Campaign: Biden Is Right, Catholic Bishops Are Wrong

Terence P. Jeffrey | October 15, 2012 | 2:08pm EDT
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Vice President Joe Biden during the Oct. 11, 2012 vice presidential debate. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - In the face of a statement that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued Friday saying that Vice President Joe Biden had spoken falsely when he said no Catholic institution would be required under an Obamacare regulation to "refer," “pay for” or “be a vehicle” for someone to get contraception, President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign said it is standing by what Biden said.

“Clo Ewing, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, stood by Biden’s statement, and criticized Ryan and running mate Mitt Romney for using the issue as a ‘political football,’” said a Religion News Service story published online Saturday by the Washington Post.

“President Obama and Vice President Biden believe standing up for women’s health and respecting religious liberties are not mutually exclusive, and they are committed to upholding both principles,” Obama campaign spokewomen Ewing said in a statement to Religion News Service. “As it stands, no religious institution will have to refer, provide, or pay for contraception.”

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The Catholic bishops issued a statement on Friday stating that this claim is false.

The bishops were responding to an assertion that Vice President Biden made in his debate on Thursday with Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate.

"With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear,” Biden said. “No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer for contraception. None has to pay for contraception. None has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact."

The bishops directly contradicted Biden.

“This is not a fact,” said the statement issued by the U.S.C.C.B on Friday. “The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain ‘religious employers.’ That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to ‘Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,’ or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.

“HHS has proposed an additional ‘accommodation’ for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as ‘non-exempt,’” said the U.S.C.C.B. “That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation ‘to pay for contraception’ and ‘to be a vehicle to get contraception.’ They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.”

More than 40 Catholic dioceses, institutions and schools—as well as some Christian organizations and private business owned by both Catholics and Protestants--have filed suits against the Obama administration arguing that Obamacare’s “preventive services” regulation--which requires virtually all health-care plans to provide cost-free coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients—violates their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

The Catholic dioceses of Joliet and Springfield, for example, are among them.

“Under the U.S. Government Mandate, many Catholic and other religious organizations are required to provide health plans to their employees that include and/or facilitate coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception, in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs,” says the complaint filed by these two Catholic dioceses.

“Ignoring broader religious exemptions from other federal laws, the Government has crafted a narrow exemption to this Mandate for certain ‘religious employers’ who can convince the Government that they satisfy four criteria: ‘The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization;’ ‘The organization primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization;’ ‘The organization primarily serves persons who share the religious tenets of the organization;’ and ‘The organization is a nonprofit organization as described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.”

“Thus,” said the complaint, “in order to safeguard their religious freedoms, religious employers must plead with government bureaucrats for a determination that they are sufficiently ‘religious.’”

The complaint filed by the Joliet and Springfield dioceses said the administration’s regulation does not deem their Catholic Charities organizations as sufficiently “religious” and that these organizations would therefore be forced to cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients.

“The definition of ‘religious employer,’ moreover, excludes Catholic Charities Joliet and Catholic Charities Springfield even though they are ‘religious’ organizations under any reasonable definition of the term,” said the complaint.

The Catholic bishops of the United States on June 14 unanimously approved a statement declaring the Obamacare regulation an “unjust and illegal mandate” that violates the rights not only of religious organizations but also of individual lay persons, including both business owners and employees.

“The HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values,” said the unanimous bishops. “They, too, face a government mandate to aid in providing ‘services’ contrary to those values—whether in their sponsoring of, and payment for, insurance as employers; their payment of insurance premiums as employees; or as insurers themselves—without even the semblance of an exemption. This, too, is unprecedented in federal law, which has long been generous in protecting the rights of individuals not to act against their religious beliefs or moral convictions. We have consistently supported these rights, particularly in the area of protecting the dignity of all human life, and we continue to do so.”

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