What's All This about Catholics Having to Provide Birth Control?

BlogHer Original Post

On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), which contains provisions that started taking effect that same year and will continue until 2017. One of these provisions -- which involves eliminating co-payments and deductibles for preventive care -- came under fire last week when the White House announced that as part of preventive care, employers would be covering the cost of birth control in employee health plans.

Catholic leaders, who morally oppose the use of contraceptives, railed against the policy from the pulpit. Conservative hopefuls vying for office jumped into the fray, describing the provision as a clear attack on religious freedom.


Photo by Bogdan Migulski

After much debate, the Obama administration reached a compromise: employers with religious objections to birth control will not have to offer contraceptive coverage to their employees as part of their health insurance plans. However, the insurance companies themselves are going to have to do it, making it likely that the cost of providing this coverage would be spread across all policy holders.

President Obama addressed the matter in a statement:

Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services -- no matter where they work. So that core principle remains. But if a woman's employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company -- not the hospital, not the charity -- will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.

While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops seemed satisfied with the concession initially, they changed their tune on Friday night, saying they did not believe their concerns had been addressed by Obama's concession. Per the Wall Street Journal:

In [the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops'] later statement, they said they still had "serious moral concerns," noting that the proposal didn't contain provisions for religious employers who self-insure, meaning the employer takes on the underlying risk of covering employees' health care.

The bishops also said that the current structure of the proposal meant that if an employee and insurer agreed to add contraception coverage to a health plan, it would still be financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the employer.

"These changes require careful moral analysis, and moreover, appear subject to some measure of change. But we note at the outset that the lack of clear protection... is unacceptable and must be corrected," the statement said.

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski told NPR, that what Obama had offered as a compromise was "a smoke screen in which he has decided to kick the can down the road in the hope that the controversy will go away. I think he is mistaken."

Wenski, like many opponents, thinks the measure will remain problematic so long as employees of Catholic charities, hospitals, and universities receive coverage for contraception. On the other hand, many Catholic organizations, such as the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities USA, are behind the reform for this type of preventive care.

For example, Sister Carol Keehan, who works in an association that oversees some 600 Catholic hospitals, applauded Obama's compromise, as a win-win situation. Ultimately, she said, health care reform is in line with the Catholic Church's desire to help the poor and uninsured.

Conservative Catholic groups are not the only ones who can't seem to agree -- liberal Catholic groups seem split on the issue as well. According to the Wall Street Journal, Catholics for Choice said the White House had given "victory number one to the Bishops." Catholics United, however, praised the decision -- as did several student organizations at Catholic universities who have campaigned to get students access to birth control.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the insurance industry was caught by surprise by the decision. However, a report by the Department of Health and Human Services found that "previous expansions of contraception coverage had zero cost increase."

AV Flox is the section editor of Love & Sex and Health on BlogHer. You can connect with her on Twitter @avflox, Google Plus +AV Flox, or e-mail her directly at av.flox AT BlogHer.com

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