White House announcing ‘accommodations’ for religious objections to contraceptive rule

10 Feb

Today President Obama is announcing new “accommodations” for religious nonprofit organizations that object to a rule requiring them to provide contraception coverage in their employees’ insurance plans. The rule has brewed up a political and PR storm for the Administration since the Department of Health and Human Services announced it on Jan. 20.

While churches were exempted from the rule, other religious organizations and charities, such as hospitals and universities, were not, even those affiliated with denominations that teach contraception is morally wrong. Critics said the rule effectively trespassed on religious freedom.

During a Friday morning conference call with reporters, senior administration officials outlined the new “accommodations,” under which women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where they work. “The policy also ensures that if a woman works for religious employers with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to offer contraceptive care free of charge,” according to a White House fact sheet.

The officials, speaking on background, said these provisions will be “cost neutral,” pointing out that there were no insurance premium increases when contraception was added to the Federal Employees Health Benefit System and that one study found that “covering contraception lowered premiums by 10 percent or more,” partly because women who use contraceptives typically stay healthier.

So: religious organizations will not need to provide contraceptive coverage or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception. They will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception. Coverage will be offered to women by their employers’ insurance companies directly, “with no role for religious employers who oppose contraception,” according to the White House. Insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge.

The White House has been under fire since announcing the rule last month, with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops leading the charge, saying the administration was threatening religious liberty. Other religious leaders and groups, including Orthodox, evangelicals and liberal Catholics (as well as Republican party leaders and presidential candidates) also joined the opposition.

Administration officials insisted today that a one-year transition for religious organizations, announced Jan. 20, was intended to give time to “work out solutions” in implementation. But reporters pushed back, since the initial announcement stated the one-year period would give organizations time to “comply with the new law” and “adapt to this new rule.” One reporter asked if the White House had “a messaging problem.”

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