Bishop Ochoa attacks Catholic Healthcare Mandate

FRESNO, Calif.

In a letter directed to Catholics, Bishop Ochoa said the rule requiring church-affiliated hospitals, charities and schools to offer birth control to its employees attacks religious freedom. He wrote, "In so ruling, the administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our nation's first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees."

Supporters of the plan say it will grant women equal access to health care, regardless of their religious beliefs or where they work. "We want to make sure that women have access to birth control because it's an economic issue. It's a health issue, it's preventive care," said Pedro Elias with Planned Parenthood.

Churches and other houses of worship would be exempt from the mandate but hospitals like Saint Agnes Medical Center in Northeast Fresno would not. In a statement, the hospital expressed its disappointment with the ruling. "This is a missed opportunity to be clear on appropriate conscience protection," read the statement.

Catholics we talked with outside Saint John's church in Downtown Fresno were split on the issue. "In the book of the Theologians, it does tell us to follow the teachings of the church, so I do respect that," said Corina Cecilia of Fresno.

"It's a very touchy subject, so in a way it's hard to choose a stand on where I stand because I do believe in what the church teaches but at the same time you have to teach your kids to be protected," said Aide Medina.

The policy won't go in effect until August of this year but religious groups will have a year to implement the rule. The White House has expressed willingness to compromise with religious institutions over the rule.

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