The Obama administration outlined a new compromise Friday aimed at shielding religious business owners and Christian universities and charities from the health law’s contraception-coverage requirements, but a chilly initial response from Roman Catholic bishops suggested the move wouldn’t assuage their concerns.
Federal officials laid out fresh rules to create a multistep process in which employers opposed to including birth control in workers’ insurance would state their objections in writing, and the federal government would take over responsibility for the coverage from there to ensure that employees can still obtain contraception without making copayments, as part of the law.
On Friday, Catholic bishops, who have led a campaign against the contraception-coverage provision that has included numerous legal challenges since its announcement in August 2011, indicated the new rules make only minor changes and are insufficient. “The regulations would only modify the ‘accommodation,’ under which the mandate still applies and still requires provision of the objectionable coverage,” said the Most Rev. Joseph Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville, Ky., and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
John DiCamillo, a staff ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, said he believed the new system is likely inadequate because it continues to use insurance plans provided by Catholic institutions as a vehicle for providing birth control, which would make them complicit in something they consider to be evil.
Federal officials said they are trying to accommodate employers with religious objections to covering some or all of the birth-control methods included in the Affordable Care Act by arranging and funding other ways for employees to receive the benefits. “Today’s announcement reinforces our commitment to providing women with access to coverage for contraception, while respecting religious considerations raised by non-profit organizations and closely held for-profit companies,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.
“Now that the administration has bent over backwards to accommodate religiously affiliated non-profits, it’s time for these organizations to put this issue behind them and allow women to receive” affordable contraceptives, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) said.