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Catholic lawsuits shove contraceptive mandate battle into high gear

Published: Tuesday, May 22 2012 1:06 p.m. MDT

Protesters stand outside the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Courthouse Friday, March 23, 2012 in Phoenix. during the Stand Up For Religious Freedom Rally. The rally was part of a nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom which is a reaction against the Obama Administration's HHS mandate that will obligate Catholic organizations to provide contraceptive services to their employees.

Matt York, Associated Press

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Forty-three major Catholic organizations, including more than a dozen bishops, sued the Obama administration on Monday over health care rules that require them to provide contraception and what they consider to be abortion-inducing drugs, in violation of their beliefs.

Michelle Boorstein at the Washington Post disputed the timing of the lawsuits, writing that "Some legal experts said the suits could face trouble mostly because of timing. The mandate does not fully take effect until August 2013, and the White House is still taking comments on a proposed adjustment it made to try to satisfy opponents."

On a website built especially for this conflict, the Archdiocese of Washington disputed the notion that the lawsuit is premature: "The mandate was made final on Feb. 15, 2012, so it is the law right now, and it will go into effect soon (Aug. 1, 2012, for some and Aug. 1, 2013, for others). We have pursued all other avenues to correct the problem without litigation, through efforts with the White House and Congress, and they have not succeeded. We can’t predict how the Supreme Court’s decision in the Affordable Care Act lawsuit will affect this mandate, and we can’t risk waiting in vain. So we must act as soon as possible to protect our rights before these deadlines come, and litigation takes time."

In fact, the Archiocese is correct that the rule has been finalized and is now law. Boorstein is also correct that the Administration continues to dangle the elusive prospect of compromise.

Ed Morrissey at the Week wrote that the Obama administration cannot be pleased with the prospect of Catholics fighting him through November. "Until recently, Catholic bishops had held out some hope of persuading the White House and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to expand the exemption in the mandate that covers only churches. A negotiated restatement of the mandate to cover all organizations run on behalf of churches would have sidelined the issue and put the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops back on the sidelines, nominally opposed to ObamaCare but in favor of government-run universal health care in general. Instead, Obama has yet another ally-turned-opponent, just as the general election fight heats up."

A new Washington Post/ABC poll shows Romney leading Obama 55-41 percent among white Catholics. In 2008, exit polls showed that Obama did better in this demographic, narrowing George Bush's 2004 56-43 advantage to a 52-47 split. If the new polling holds up, Obama has already lost all that he gained in 2008 here, and the new friction promises to keep the pressure up on this front.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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