The New York Times by Robert Pear –
February 7, 2013:
The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the latest White House proposal on health insurance coverage of contraceptives, saying it did not offer enough safeguards for religious hospitals, colleges and charities that objected to providing such coverage for their employees.
The bishops said they would continue fighting the federal mandate in court.
The administration said the proposal, issued last Friday, would guarantee free employee coverage of birth control “while respecting religious concerns” of organizations that objected to paying or providing for it.
The bishops said the proposal seemed to address part of their concern about the definition of religious employers who could be exempted from the requirement to offer contraceptive coverage at no charge to employees. But they said it did not go far enough and failed to answer many questions, like who would pay for birth control coverage provided to employees of certain nonprofit religious organizations.
“The administration’s proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education and Catholic charities. The Department of Health and Human Services offers what it calls an ‘accommodation,’ rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches.”
The bishops’ statement, issued after they had reviewed President Obama’s proposal for six days, was more moderate and measured than their criticisms of the original rule issued by the White House early last year. Cardinal Dolan said the bishops wanted to work with the administration to find a solution.
The administration had no immediate reaction to the bishops’ statement, other than to say it was not a surprise.
Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said that 99 percent of women used contraceptives at some point in their lives and that their interests must be considered.
“The health needs, the religious and conscience beliefs of women deserve to be respected and protected,” said Ms. Greenberger, who supports the White House proposal.
Under the latest proposal, churches and nonprofit religious groups that object to providing birth control coverage on religious grounds would not have to pay for it. Women who work for such organizations could get free contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies. The institution objecting to the coverage would not pay for the contraceptives. Costs would be paid by an insurance company, with the possibility that it could recoup the costs through lower health care expenses resulting in part from fewer births.
The administration refused to grant an exemption or accommodation to secular businesses owned by people who said they objected to contraceptive coverage on religious grounds.
The bishops rallied to the defense of such employers.
“In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage,” Cardinal Dolan said, “we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath. We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.”
Federal courts have issued differing judgments on the legality of the federal rule. The litigation appears likely to end up in the Supreme Court.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia said that the administration’s proposal, at first glance, had “struck some people as a modest improvement.” The proposal, he said, appeared to increase the number of religiously affiliated entities that could claim exemption from the requirement.
But on closer examination, the archbishop said, the federal mandate “remains unnecessary, coercive and gravely flawed.”
“The White House has made no concessions to the religious conscience claims of private businesses, and the whole spirit of the ‘compromise’ is minimalist,” Archbishop Chaput said.
In court cases, judges have expressed keen interest in details of the arrangements for contraceptive coverage. The most difficult question, which the administration has yet to resolve, is how coverage will be provided and financed for employees of self-insured faith-based institutions, which serve as both employers and insurers.