At Press Club, HHS Secretary Dodges Press--And Questions About Contraception Mandate

By Elizabeth Harrington | February 7, 2012 | 3:49 PM EST

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. ( Starr)

( – Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius dodged reporters’ questions about a controversial contraception mandate as she left an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Sebelius took no questions in the event at which she briefly spoke at the Press Club and then took only one short question in the lobby on her department’s regulation. She then fled in her Suburban amidst a barrage of reporters' questions.

The regulation will require all health insurance plans to cover sterilizations and contraceptives (including abortificatients).

Speaking to a reporter in the lobby, Sebelius said, “28 states currently have various contraception mandates in place, we know that there are operating arrangements around the country.

“So that one of the reasons I think that the final rule anticipates an additional year for compliance is to work, reach out to those stakeholders, work with groups to figure out arrangements where both women have available, affordable contraception at no additional cost and the church can find a purchasing arrangement that meets their tenets.”

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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that all Americans purchase health insurance.

Last month, HHS finalized a part of the “Preventive Services” rule, which will require all health insurance plans to cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that cause abortions, without co-pay.

Set to go into effect on Aug. 1, the mandate is opposed by the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States, who says it violates the right of Catholics to freely exercise their religion. In comments on the regulation that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops submitted to HHS, the bishops called it an “unprecedented attack on religious freedom.”

The bishops called on the Obama administration to rescind the regulation in its entirety, saying it violated the rights of individuals,  employers, insurers, and Catholic institutions such as Catholic hospitals, universities and charitable organizations.

Sebelius announced on Jan. 20, that the regulation will take effect for individuals, employers and insurers on Aug. 1. She gave Catholic institutions an extra year to "adapt" to the regulatoin, but said it will take effect for them on Aug. 1, 2013.

In their comments to HHS, the bishops called the regulation the “most radical among the States.”  Sebelius mentioned the 28 states with contraception mandates, however the bishops said none of the state mandates “is as sweeping as the one adopted by HHS.”  (See the full letter here.)

Last Sunday, bishops across the country sent their own letters to parishes asking priest to read them at mass. In Virginia, Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, Va., and Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond, Va., wrote a letter against the mandate, which read, in part:

“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 (and suffer the penalties for doing do). The Administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.

“We cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.”

Secretary Sebelius spoke for five minutes in an appearance at the “We Can’t Wait: Alzheimer’s” event at the National Press Club, where she announced that the administration will fund $130 million in research for the disease over the next two years.