Contrary Clerics: Bishops Reject Latest Obama Olive Branch On Contraceptives
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 11:58:06 AM EST

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.

Just before I read this article, I had seen this press release issued by Catholics for Choice. Clearly the vast majority of ordinary Catholics do not agree with their bishops on this issue. I hope for them that they will soon be able to cast off the theocratic, dictatorial hierarchy who want to inflict their narrow views on everyone.

by MLouise on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 04:33:36 PM EST
The bishops want to use government funding as an enforcement mechanism to prevent Catholic women from using contraceptives. Unfortunately the right wingers have the upper hand in the national hierarchies, in the Vatican and Curia, and have the big bucks. They will probably incite a schism at some point.

by khughes1963 on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 06:41:00 PM EST

They are still smarting from the GOP's loss, for one. They
probably believe their intransigence will recover their
lost moral authority. There are many of us Catholics
think the hierarchy has lost its way, and
ignore the members' protests.

by khughes1963 on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 09:28:57 PM EST

Over at Commonweal, the editorial supporting this compromise, one I as a NON Catholic really do not like but will live with, has engendered a new uptick of revivified George Wallaces. The assertions that Catholic institutions that take tax funding - the ONLY ones so affected - are "doing good work" smack of religious bigotry explicitly mirroring segregationists of yore. So what? Lots of organizations "do good work". You take tax dollars, you come under Civil Rights laws. How is this argument of private morality on taxpayer dime a whit different from Rand Paul's whine against Civil Rights laws covering businesses? The right to discriminate exists for non-profits. Churches may. White separatist schools may. Private clubs may. But the minute you open up to taking tax dollars? You may NOT. Not racially, by gender, by any standard at all, and that includes religious views, religious views being everything from denominational differences to having antipathy to religion across the boards. To impose your singular view under thos circumstances is bigotry, bias, prejudice, discrimination. It is ludicrous to insist your view has to prevail because you're 'nice' or 'doing good works'. You want to discriminate, fine. Don't take our tax money to do it.

by Churchlady on Sun Feb 10, 2013 at 06:50:27 PM EST
It was the whole threat to examine tax exemptions for schools that were segregation academies that caused the Religious Right to start their political activities.

by khughes1963 on Mon Feb 11, 2013 at 06:37:52 PM EST

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