Roman Catholic leaders criticise Barack Obama over healthcare

Roman Catholic leaders have furiously criticised President Barack
Obama for approving new regulations that compel religious
organisations to include morning-after pills and other contraceptives
in employee health insurance coverage.

New rules, introduced under Mr Obama’s overhaul of the US healthcare
system, mean that religious charities, universities and other groups
must now provide contraception in staff insurance packages.

Failure to do so would result in fines being levied by the federal
government that larger Catholic organisations claim would cost them
millions of dollars a year.

At least 153 US bishops have spoken out against the change. A letter
from a leading bishop, accusing the president of waging a “severe
assault on religious liberty”, has been read to dozens of
congregations.

“We Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or
to drop health coverage for our employees and suffer the penalties for
doing so,” wrote Alexander Sample, the Bishop of Marquette.

Mr Obama has been accused of backtracking on an assurance that he made
in a 2009 speech at the University of Notre Dame, a leading Catholic
university in Indiana.

Speaking specifically about his planned health reforms, he said:
“Let’s honour the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and
draft a sensible conscience clause”.

A White House spokesman said the reforms, which do not apply to the
Church itself, struck “an effective balance between religious beliefs
and increased access to important preventative services”.

The row threatens to damage Mr Obama’s support in November’s
presidential election among Catholic voters, a group he won by 54 per
cent to 45 per cent over his Republican rival John McCain in 2008.

Timothy Dolan, the Cardinal-designate of New York and president of the
US Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged Catholics across America to
bring political pressure to bear.

“Let your elected leaders know that you want religious liberty and
rights of conscience restored and that you want the administration’s
contraceptive mandate rescinded,” he said.
By Jon Swaine, Washington

7:42PM GMT 06 Feb 2012