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REILLY: No choice for Catholic colleges

Obama wants to force faith institutions to provide birth-control services

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Some pro-abortion advocates seem positively outraged that Catholic colleges would defend their constitutional liberty to teach and uphold Catholic values. In that, they reveal that God, reason and the rule of law are of little importance to their narrow agenda.

On Oct. 7, the president of Catholics for Choice, Jon O'Brien, publicly scolded his counterpart at the Catholic University of America (CUA) for interfering "in women's capacity for moral decision making," simply because the university wants the Obama administration to exempt Catholic colleges from morally offensive regulations.

Frances Kissling, founder of Catholics for Choice, also accused CUA of being "intolerant" and "politicizing some of the most sacred decisions people make about sexuality and reproduction."

Why? Because in the warped view of the family-planning lobby, abortion rights and contraception are more "sacred" than the First Amendment right of Catholic institutions to be and act faithfully Catholic.

On Sept. 30, CUA president John Garvey called new Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations a "collective violation" of Catholic beliefs by the federal government. Despite the outcry from abortion proponents, Mr. Garvey has it exactly right. HHS has mandated that health insurance plans include coverage for sterilization, contraception and certain abortion-inducing drugs, even when offered by Catholic institutions, which consider such practices to be gravely immoral.

Although HHS does exempt some religious employers, attorneys advising the Cardinal Newman Society tell us that the "exemption" is so narrow that it likely would exclude religious charities, hospitals and colleges, which are not controlled directly by the church and which provide services such as education, medical treatment and food donations to non-Catholics as well as Catholics.

Mr. Garvey is not the only one defending his rights. Last month, 18 other Catholic colleges joined in an appeal to HHS coordinated by the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education, a division of the Cardinal Newman Society located at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Md. Writing on their behalf, attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) argued that "federal law simply prohibits the federal government from violating the religious and moral beliefs" of any individual or institution.

"No federal rule has defined being 'religious' as narrowly and discriminatorily as the [HHS] mandate appears to do, and no regulation has ever so directly proposed to violate plain statutory and constitutional religious freedoms," wrote ADF's Kevin Theriot and Matthew S. Bowman.

While Catholic college leaders are understandably concerned about the mandate's impact on employee health insurance, they are especially offended that they would be forced to help facilitate sexual activity among students. By refusing to exempt student insurance plans, HHS is ensuring that even Catholic girls attending Catholic colleges will be tempted by cost-free sterilization and contraception.

In the Aug. 3 edition of the FederalRegister, explaining why it was necessary to publish the regulations immediately rather than wait for public comment, HHS pointed to the 1.5 million students covered by college insurance policies, which often begin in August. HHS was anxious to ensure changes to college health plans as soon as possible. Issuing the regulations after the college plans go into effect and thereby delaying the coverage changes one year "could result in adverse health consequences," HHS warned.

The dilemma for Catholic college leaders should be apparent even to pro-abortion advocates - and so should the violation of basic constitutional rights. "If we comply, as the law requires," Mr. Garvey wrote in TheWashingtonPost, "we will be helping our students do things that we teach them, in our classes and in our sacraments, are sinful - sometimes gravely so. It seems to us that a proper respect for religious liberty would warrant an exemption for our university and other institutions like it."

It's common sense. But that kind of logic threatens the goals of the family-planning lobby, as did the national protest against the HHS regulations organized by Catholic bishops during the last two weeks of September. Inserting notices in parish bulletins across the country, the bishops urged Catholics to submit thousands of complaints to HHS.

That's precisely the sort of thing that Catholics for Choice was built to counteract. The small operation is an arm of the pro-abortion movement, intended to look like a Catholic grass-roots organization. Yet it is funded largely by secular foundations including the Ford, Rockefeller and Playboy foundations. It is not, according to the Catholic bishops, a Catholic organization.

NARAL Pro-Choice America, according to a recent letter by President Nancy Keenan to the Obama administration, doesn't want any religious exemption to the HHS regulations - even for churches and church leaders. "Birth control is essential for women's health," she argues.

Such extreme positions by pro-abortion advocates are not surprising given the lobby's narrow agenda, which frequently puts "sexual rights" ahead of other fundamental liberties - even absurdly describing them as "sacred." But the good news is that Catholic college leaders and many others from religious colleges, charities and institutions are fighting back to protect their constitutional rights.

Patrick J. Reilly is president of the Cardinal Newman Society.

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