February 8, 2013 — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Thursday issued a statement rejecting the Obama administration's proposed contraceptive coverage accommodation for religiously affiliated employers, the New York Times reports.
HHS said the proposal, which was issued last Friday, would ensure access to no-cost contraception for women employed at not-for-profit religiously affiliated entities, "while respecting religious concerns" of the employers (Pear, New York Times, 2/7). Under the proposal, the insurer -- rather than the employer itself -- would offer women the coverage (Rovner, "Shots," NPR, 2/7).
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of USCCB, said the accommodation "falls short" of resolving the bishops' concerns (Radnofsky/Bravin, Wall Street Journal, 2/7). The proposal "maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries," he said, adding that the administration treats Catholic hospitals, schools and charities as "second-class" to churches, which are exempt altogether (Kliff, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 2/7).
Dolan also said it remains unclear how the process would work for an insurer or third-party administrator to arrange the coverage. He claimed the possibility remains that "ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities."
In addition, Dolan noted that HHS declined to extend an accommodation to private, for-profit businesses owned by individuals with religious objections to covering contraception. "This includes employers sponsoring and subsidizing the coverage, insurers writing it, and beneficiaries paying individual premiums for it," he wrote, adding, "We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences" (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 2/7).
Dolan said USCCB would continue negotiations to reach an agreement with the White House (Wall Street Journal, 2/7). He also said the bishops will continue to support legal challenges to the contraceptive coverage rules (New York Times, 2/7).
Reaction From Women's Groups
Women's health advocates reaffirmed their support for the contraceptive coverage rules and criticized the bishops for continuing to object.
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement, "It is becoming clear that some people just will not rest until they have found a way to deny women access to birth control coverage" (CQ HealthBeat, 2/7).
Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, stressed the need to consider the interests of the 99% of women who use birth control during their lives. "The health needs, the religious and conscience beliefs of women deserve to be respected and protected," she said (New York Times, 2/7).