CNSNews.com is reporting that O'Neill's statement came in response to a reporter's question about NOW's support for the new federal regulation requiring all American Catholics as well as Catholic institutions to buy health insurance plans that cover contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization. The Catholic Church teaches that these practices are immoral and Catholic cannot be involved in them. For this reason, by demanding that employers violate their religious beliefs, the bishops are calling the mandate an "unprecedented attack on religious liberty."
"The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' claims that institutions can have consciences--that’s poppycock,” O'Neill said. "[F]or a bunch of men who, forgive me, don’t get pregnant and who refuse to allow women into their own ranks of leadership, to presume to say that they can make a thing that has a conscience that trumps the conscience of an individual woman is simply laughable, but in a sad way,” she said
CNSNews pressed O'Neill further, asking if she believes the Obama administration has the right to force faithful Catholics to pay for treatments that violate their religious beliefs.
“In fact, the Obama administration has an obligation to allow every individual--individual faithful Catholic--to make her own mind up about whether she will use birth control and whether she will have an abortion. That’s the Obama administration’s obligation," O'Neill evaded.
“In fact, any restriction on women’s access to birth control violates that individual woman’s right to the freedom of religion under the First Amendment; violates her right to the equal protections of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment; violates her right to privacy under Griswold vs. Connecticut; violates her right not to be discriminated against in the workplace in violation of the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; and violates her rights under the Pregnancy Act.”
"So it violates the law, six ways from Sunday, to put any kind of restriction on it,” said O’Neill.
Legal experts have said that the mandate is not only in violation of the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, it also violates existing conscience protections on abortion such as the Hyde-Weldon Amendment (in so far as Plan B and Ella are covered) and the principles of the Church Amendments which protect conscience rights for those who object to contraceptives and other services on moral or religious grounds.
Legal action on the mandate is imminent.
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Photo of O'Neill is by the Associated Press