Catholic priests urge action against birth control rule

Catholic officials urge parishione­rs to fight federal rule

- By Rick Jervis

New federal rule requires faith-based employers to include reproducti­ve services, birth control in health care coverage. Churches say the mandate infringes on their constituti­onal rights.

NEW ORLEANS — From Maine to Phoenix to southern Louisiana, Catholic churches across the USA this weekend echoed with scorn for a new federal rule requiring faithbased employers to include birth control and other reproducti­ve services in their health care coverage.

Dozens of priests took the rare step of reading letters from the pulpit urging parishione­rs to reach out to Washington and oppose the rule, enacted this month.

The rule requires nearly all em- ployers to provide their employees access to health insurance that covers artificial contracept­ion, sterilizat­ion services and the “morning after” birth control pill.

The mandate exempts churches but applies to Catholic universiti­es, Catholic-based charities and to groups affiliated with Methodists, Baptists and other denominati­ons.

Catholic leaders morally oppose artificial birth control and called the rule an infringeme­nt on their constituti­onal rights. “This is the government interferin­g in the workings of the church,” says Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoma­n for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Catholic Church actions in opposition to the federal edict included:

-New Orleans-area churches read a letter from Archbishop Gregory Aymond at Saturday and Sunday Masses, directing churchgoer­s at the diocese’s 108 parishes to denounce the rule and contact Congress to reverse the ruling. “This ruling is an example of government violating our rights,” the letter read.

-The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix issued a similar letter to its 92 parishes, saying it plans to flout the law and urging churchgoer­s to write Congress.

-Church leaders in Maine read a letter from Bishop Richard Malone protesting the rule he called a violation of the church’s First Amendment right to freedom of religious practices and urging parishione­rs into action.

It was not known exactly how many churches addressed the issue. About one-third of America’s 50 million Roman Catholics — more than 15 million — attend Mass once a week, says William D’antonio, a sociologis­t at the Catholic University of America. However, in recent polls, about 95% of Catholics have said they use contracept­ives and 89% say the decision to use them should be theirs, not the church’s, he says.

Judy Waxman of the National Women’s Law Center, says easier access to contracept­ives could prevent unwanted pregnancie­s and cut down on the number of abortions. “This is such a major step forward for women in this country,” she says.

Wesley and Lesley Sterling of Mccomb, Miss., heard about the rule for the first time while attending Saturday Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. Both side with the church on the debate. “It’s wrong,” Wesley Sterling, 30, says of the rule. “It should not be forced upon what we believe in as Christians.”

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