Challenge to birth control mandate

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 21, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


LAWRENCE MORRIS, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: This is not about contraception. It is about government compulsion. It is about making our university an agent of the government. I mean look at the first two criteria, you must serve primarily Catholics, and you must employ primarily Catholics, neither of which we do. And as many wiser people have said it changes the church from saying "are you hungry" to "are you a Catholic?"

JANE BELFORD, WASHINGTON ARCHDIOCESE: Under this unprecedented definition of what is and is not religious ministry, even the work of Mother Teresa in caring for the poorest and most needy people would not qualify as religious enough.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, 43 Catholic institutions are challenging the administration's healthcare law, the president's healthcare law. We called the HHS, Health and Human Services, today, and the response we had, "We decline to comment on pending litigation."

The lawsuits basically are filed about the decision that only Catholic institutions such as churches are exempted from providing wide ranging contraceptive coverage and not schools, universities, hospitals, charities. Therein lies the problem. They say it's about religious freedom.

We're back with the panel. Steve, how big a deal is this that all of these groups have now filed lawsuits, against the administration?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, at this point it's a big deal with public relations. You have another attempt to delegitimize what the administration has done on this. This is a long time coming. The leadership of the Catholic Church worked hand in hand with the administration to try to avoid precisely this outcome. And you had a series of meetings that took place in the late fall and the early part of the winter before this decision announced on January 20 in which the leaders of the church said we don't want this to come to a head this way. And then you had the president make his announcement and then I think from that point on you saw things deteriorate.

Remember Archbishop Dolan sent out a letter on March 1 in which he declared that he was shocked that this was the outcome because President Obama had "personally assured me he that would do nothing to impede the good work of the church." That suggests that he thinks the president wasn't honest with him. And there were subsequent meetings from that point in which they tried to talk about this compromise. The church was not satisfied. And the administration eventually declared both in the person of Kathleen Sebelius and Jay Carney from the podium that this was a fait accompli, that they were done talking about this. So I think the church felt basically, we have reached a point where we have no other options and we're gonna continue to fight this.

BAIER: This is a number of shots fired against this health care law as the Supreme Court, of course, Juan, gets ready to make its ruling sometimes in June likely. A number of schools have dropped health insurance for students not only because they say it's morally objectionable -- this ruling but also because premiums, 66 percent increase.

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE HILL: Right. So you have a situation where some of the interim steps that are taken on the way to full engagement in the health care law, which will come in 2014, people have objections to it and in some cases especially with people who are students or part-time employees as insurance companies say it's just too prohibitive in terms of cost, then you have people make decisions to cut back. These are all on the way to the big decision that comes from the court. That is where it will settle it.

Now, with regard to this lawsuit, I just find this intriguing. We are a country of civil laws. If the Muslim community said we want to segregate treatment of men from women in our hospitals. If you had people who are orthodox Jews say, oh no we can not allow certain people to come into our rooms because we are -- you know, OK. It's your church, conduct your business as you will. But why would you expect that the government should somehow say we'll follow whatever rules you want for hospitals, universities, for charities, and also that you should take government money at the same time? I don't think that's right.


A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: I think that the lawsuits and what Steve described as the church's effort to work with the administration to no avail, I think it sounds terrible. They feel that the regulations have violated their First Amendment rights to freely express their religion. The exemptions are extremely restrictive because they only apply to activities between Catholics. And so administering and offering service to non-Catholics, they are still violating their beliefs.

But you know what, politically this is a wash. I mean if we are just talking about the politics of this for the administration, it is true that people who are on one side of the argument are going to get all energized by this and give money and work hard, and people on the other side -- it's a fundraising opportunity for both sides. You can be sure the administration and the Democrats will find a way to say this violates a woman's right to access of contraception and health care coverage. And it is literally I think a political wash.

BAIER: So Juan, you don't see religious freedom aspect to it?

WILLIAMS: No. Because nobody is trying to tell you what you can worship or what happens in your church, or your synagogue, or your mosque.

BAIER: That is exactly --


WILLIAMS: No. Not at all. Even the bishop says if you are in the church, if you are talking about relations with other Catholics, the government says fine. It's when you step outside.


BAIER: -- you're in hospital treating somebody other than Catholics.


WILLIAMS: Correct -- and taking government money. And then you say to the government, oh we have our own rules. Don't tell us what to do. Wait a minute. Come on.

BAIER: Alright, well this debate will continue. That's it for the panel, but stay tuned for the president's latest moves.

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