Such a mandate "threatens substantial harm to the health of women and to the civil rights of millions of Americans," the association said.The statement was released the day after Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said the panel's recommendation showed that "there is an ideology at work ... that goes beyond any objective assessment of the health needs of women and children." If HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius accepts that recommendation, "these controversial practices will be mandated for all insurance plans — public and private — without co-pay from anyone receiving them," said Cardinal DiNardo, who chairs the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.Sebelius, who was expected to act on the recommendations by Aug. 1, called the panel's report "historic" and said, "Before today, guidelines regarding women's health and preventive care did not exist. These recommendations are based on science and existing literature."Asked about the proposed mandate, the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association told Catholic News Service that "the Catholic health ministry will expect the same conscience protection that allows us to carry out our mission in this pluralistic environment respecting our religious beliefs."Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, had no other comment about the panel's recommendations.Writing July 20 in the online blog of The Washington Post, Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said she would "shudder to think ... that the U.S. government would force me to subsidize abortion and other services to get health insurance from a private company."Some of the contraceptives approved for use by the FDA have an abortifacient effect, she said."This is Big Brother at its worst and I cringe at the thought that anyone, including a church organization, might be told by government to fund a procedure through private insurance plans for their own employees," Sister Walsh said. "Having government decide such questions is a clear violation of conscience."Cardinal DiNardo and Sister Walsh both urged passage of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, H.R. 1179, which would allow health insurance plans to exclude procedures that violate the moral or religious convictions of those providing or purchasing the plan.The cardinal said he was writing to all members of Congress urging co-sponsorship of the legislation, which was introduced by Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Dan Boren, D-Okla.The bill "would prevent new mandates under (the health reform law) from being used to discriminate against persons and institutions for acting according to their conscience on these matters," Sister Walsh said.The National Catholic Bioethics Center had no immediate reaction to the recommendation but in written testimony to HHS and other government agencies last September said any mandate that insurance companies cover "contraceptives, sterilizations and drugs or devices that induce the expulsion of a human embryo before or after implantation would violate the consciences of many Americans, and would contradict promises by the Obama administration that the (health reform law) does not undermine existing conscience protections in law.""Pregnancy is not a disease and contraceptives, sterilizations, abortifacients and abortion should not be included as mandated preventive services," said the testimony signed by John M. Haas, president of the center in Philadelphia.In its statement, the Catholic Medical Association said mandating insurance coverage of contraceptives is both "a failed strategy" to reduce unplanned pregnancies and "unfair and unethical public policy.""Despite decades of such advocacy and millions, if not billions, of dollars spent in the effort, and despite the fact that 35 states mandate contraceptive coverage as a part of prescription drug coverage, the Guttmacher Institute still reports that nearly half of all pregnancies among American women are unintended," the statement said.In addition, the Catholic doctors said, the mandate would "force people to subsidize specific interest groups and businesses, including Planned Parenthood."The organization describes itself as the largest association of Catholic physicians in North America.—CNS