WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a move that appears unlikely to end the controversy over a federal mandate that all health insurance plans include contraception and sterilization free of charge, President Barack Obama outlined a plan that would allow religious employers not to offer such services to their employees but would compel insurance companies to do so.
The president announced the policy in a brief statement Feb. 10 but took no questions.
“No women’s health should depend on who she is, who she works for or how much money she makes,” Obama said. He said the new policy remains faithful to the “core principle” of free preventive care, but also honors the principle of religious freedom, which “as a Christian, I cherish.”
Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the announcement “a first step in the right direction,” but said “we reserve judgment on the details until we have them.”
“We hope to work with the administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations,” he added.
The USCCB president said Americans of all faiths and of no faith had responded with “remarkable unity” against the mandate by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because they were “worried about the erosion of religious freedom and governmental intrusion into issues of faith and morals.”
Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, praised what she called “a resolution … that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions.”
“The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed,” she said in a statement. “We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished.”
But U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., a Catholic who has co-chaired the bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus since 1982, said the policy announced by Obama “is the discredited old policy, dressed up to look like something else.”
He said the requirement that insurance companies provide contraception and sterilization free of charge to all employees of religious organizations would still place the cost ultimately on the religious employers. “Who pays for the insurance policy?” he asked. “The religious employer.”
Obama said he had spoken to Catholic officials directly “from the very beginning of this process” and had promised them that “we would spend the next year working with institutions like Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities to find an equitable solution that protects religious liberty and ensures that every woman has access to the care that she needs.”
He said the policy announced Jan. 20 had prompted “many genuine concerns, … as well as, frankly, the more cynical desire on the part of some to make this into a political football.” Because of that, Obama said, he directed HHS “to speed up the process that had already been envisioned.”
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the final rule was to be published in the Federal Register later Feb. 10.
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If the Democratic party focused consistently and explicitly on economic issues (inequality in tax structures, financial reform, protection of workers) they would never lose an election. The DNC however continually engages in social experimentation (forced busing in the 60’s/70’s; abortion rights in 70’s and on; homosexual ‘marriage’; denial of tax credits to parochial school parents….) that is unpopular with the majority and morally questionable. One can only wonder where this self-imolating agenda emanates from.
By the way, has the ACLU offered to champion the rights of Catholic institutions to not be forced to pay for/provide for procedures they find morally/religiously repugnant?
Frankly, it doesn’t matter if Obama had completely reversed course and announced that no one would be forced to offer any contraception in any plan. The Affordable Care Act explicitly delegate the decision making authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebilius. At this point, we all know what she and Obama want, and we all know that it was only heavy political pressure in an election year that caused them to modify things slightly. If Obama wins in November, Sebilius will quickly change back to the original mandate. In fact, with no election to worry about anymore, there is nothing to stop her from mandating that surgical abortions be provided as well as the “Institute of Health” initially recommended. Remember, this woman supported George Tiller. We must have separate legislation that ensure individual consciences are protected.
I agree with Chris Smith – what is the difference here? Simply saying that the insurance provider will “pay” for the services doesn’t really change anything, does it? The employer is still paying for the policy, so the costs would essentially be rolled into that cost.
An analogy might be if you go to buy a $10 shirt from Walmart, but you don’t want the buttons on it. So Walmart says, ok, we’ll pay for the buttons – no problem. But the shirt is still $10.