Contrary Clerics: Bishops Reject Latest Obama Olive Branch On Contraceptives

The Catholic bishops simply don’t want Americans to have access to birth control. They consider its use a sin, and their most recent statement shows that they’re not open to reasonable compromise

Yesterday the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a formal statement reacting to the Obama administration’s latest effort at compromise on birth control. To no one’s surprise, the bishops rejected the proposal.

As you might recall, federal regulations have been issued under the Affordable Care Act concerning what the types of coverage that health care plans must include. Contraceptives are, of course, on the list.

Houses of worship and seminaries are exempt from the mandate, but that’s not good enough for the bishops. They insist that all religiously affiliated institutions such as hospitals and colleges have the right to deny contraceptive coverage to workers. They also want corporations and other for-profit enterprises to be exempt if they are owned by Catholics or members of other religious traditions that oppose birth control.

Obama and officials at the Department of Health and Human Services recently issued a proposed new rule to try to resolve this matter. Businesses would still have to comply with mandate, but religiously affiliated institutions would not.

Under the plan, employees of church hospitals and colleges would have access to contraception, with insurance companies picking up the tab. The insurance companies would do the work of notifying employees of religiously affiliated institutions that they are eligible under a separate, individual policy – one that is provided wholly by the insurance company. (This won’t cost the insurance companies extra. They’ll actually save money because they’ll have to pay for fewer births.)

Syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne, himself a devout Catholic, endorsed the idea. The Washington Post’s editorial board, which has been critical of Obama over this issue, backed it as well.

Even William Donohue, the acerbic head of the far-right Catholic League for Religious and Civil Right, seemed OK with this compromise (although Donohue later stepped back from that a bit).

Several Catholic organizations and leaders applauded the proposed rule. Among them is the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center and a Jesuit priest.

HHS and the administration have gone out of their way to resolve the concerns of religious institutions that object to covering contraceptives in their insurance programs,” Reese said.

None of this mattered to the bishops.

In a statement, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City said, “Throughout the past year, we have been assured by the Administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage. We remain eager for the Administration to fulfill that pledge and to find acceptable solutions—we will affirm any genuine progress that is made, and we will redouble our efforts to overcome obstacles or setbacks.

I have to wonder if Dolan actually read the proposed new rule. Remember, the church itself is wholly exempt. And church-affiliated entities will not have to pay for birth control, nor will they be required to give any referrals for it. The insurance companies will take care of that.

The bishops’ response is especially galling when one remembers that church hospitals, colleges and social services agencies receive massive infusions of taxpayer money, hire plenty of non-Catholics and offer their services to the public. They seem to want the right to claim to be quasi-secular when they’re raiding the public purse and then shift to wholly sectarian when resisting any government regulation they dislike.

As I said earlier this week, the bishops simply don’t want Americans to have access to birth control. They consider its use a sin, and their most recent statement shows that they’re not open to reasonable compromise.

Thanks to their Dark Ages mentality, the country will be stuck with a protracted battle in court and maybe Congress over an issue that to the vast majority of Americans was laid to rest a long time ago.

Be assured that Americans United will stay involved. We’ve already filed legal briefs in some pending cases and will keep an eye on developments on Capitol Hill as well.

The health care of Americans must never be held hostage to the demands of aggressive sectarian lobbies.