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Fairfield County Bishop Takes on Health-Care Rule

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – The leader of Fairfield County’s Roman Catholics is now leading a charge against the Obama administration’s health-care policies.

Bishop William Lori, head of the Diocese of Bridgeport , is one of the most vocal opponents of the Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to no longer allow religious organizations to be exempt from its requirements for employee health-care plans.

Lori’s specific problem with the decision relates to contraceptive services. Federal regulations require that employers with more than three employees include coverage for birth control medication, the morning after pill and other FDA-approved forms of birth control. Lori contends that the decision will force Catholic-run institutions to go against their beliefs.

“For 2,000 years, the church has consistently taught that abortion and contraception are wrongs that strike right at the dignity of the human person. This is not a matter of the mere opinion of a few bishops or theologians,” Lori wrote in an open letter. “Now, the federal government would force the church to negotiate with insurance companies for this coverage, to purchase it and pay for actions it considers immoral.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced her department’s ruling Jan. 20. She notes that the law does not apply to organizations that employ solely members of their own religion. She gave all other groups until August 2013 to comply.

“Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-age women,” Sebelius said. “This rule will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost sharing.”

The Diocese of Bridgeport covers all of Fairfield County. It runs a total of 38 schools, nine elderly housing centers and many other charitable organizations across the county.

Two of the largest Catholic employers are in Fairfield: Sacred Heart University and Fairfield University. Sacred Heart’s administrators did not respond to requests for comment. Fairfield University, which insures 785 full-time employees, backed Lori in an email:

“We stand with our fellow Catholic institutions in expressing deep regret regarding this regulation, and believe the decision by the Department of Health and Human Services violates a basic right of religious freedom, as well as the very essence of our mission and deeply held beliefs,” the university said.

The diocese distributed a letter at services over the last two Sundays urging Catholics to write to members of Congress to fight the decision. Lori has also been named chair of an Ad-Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. But so far neither Sebelius nor President Barack Obama has made any indication that the government would overturn its ruling.

“This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty,” Sebelius said. “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”

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