By Elise Viebeck - 05/15/12 10:02 PM EDT
The Catholic Church's U.S. hierarchy warned Tuesday that without quick action by Congress, it will sue the Obama administration for mandating that insurance plans provide birth control to women without a co-pay.
"[F]orcing individual and institutional stakeholders to sponsor and subsidize an otherwise widely available product over their religious and moral objections serves no legitimate, let alone compelling, government interest," lawyers for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in a letter to federal regulators.
The bishops group and its leader, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, have led calls to rescind the mandate but threatened court action Tuesday in light of "approaching regulatory deadlines."
"Absent prompt congressional attention to this infringement on fundamental civil liberties, we believe the only remaining recourse … is in the courts," lawyers for the group wrote.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said in February that President
Obama takes objectors' concerns "very seriously" and is "very aware of
and engaged in this issue."
"We are very sensitive and understand some of the concerns that have been expressed," Carney told reporters.
The bishops' notice came in 20 pages of comments submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on a forthcoming rule to accommodate certain religious organizations, such as Catholic hospitals, that were not exempted from the original mandate.
The new accommodation will likely cover explicitly religious organizations, but not any employer who personally objects to birth control.
Lawyers for the bishops group called the likely arrangement insufficient.
Individual employers that hold "a pro-life stance … will face a choice," the lawyers argued.
"They can drop out of the health insurance marketplace altogether, or offer or provide the objectionable coverage."