Tag Archives: birth control

Obama exempts religious groups from contraception mandate

By David Gibson
Religion News Service

Facing growing furor from religious groups, President Obama on Friday unveiled an “accommodation” in which health insurance companies, rather than religious institutions, will provide employees with contraception coverage.

The revised approach effectively removes all faith-based organizations — not just houses of worship but also hospitals and universities — from covering employees’ contraception costs.

“Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health,” Obama said in a midday address at the White House.

“Now, as we move to implement this rule, however, we’ve been mindful that there’s another principle at stake here — and that’s the principle of religious liberty, an inalienable right that is enshrined in our Constitution,” Obama said. “As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right.”

At issue was a mandate, part of Obama’s 2009 health care overhaul, that employers provide free birth control coverage. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the mandate Jan. 20.

Religious groups, particularly Catholics, fiercely objected, saying the federal government should not force institutions to violate the tenets of their faith. Women’s advocates argued that employees should have access to birth control regardless of where they work. The furor over the contraception mandate appeared to catch the White House off guard, as it struggled to keep the focus on access to contraception, which is broadly used by American women, even Catholics.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which led the charge against the contraception mandate, said on Friday that it would study the revised rule. “While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them,” said New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of USCCB.

“We hope to work with the administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”

Obama was under fierce pressure to forge a compromise. Conservatives labeled the mandate an abridgment of religious freedom, a rallying cry taken up by GOP presidential candidates, including front-runner Mitt Romney.

Under the new plan, a religiously affiliated institution would not be required to provide contraception coverage. Rather, the institution’s insurance company would offer the coverage for free and without raising premiums.

Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association, an umbrella group for more than 600 Catholic hospitals, said Friday she was “very pleased” with Obama’s compromise, which she said “protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions.”

Keehan was a key supporter of the president’s health care reform law — against the wishes of the U.S. Catholic bishops — but she had voiced strong criticism of the initial contraception regulations.

Keehan was joined by a range of progressive Catholic groups and leaders in praising the new rules. Many of them had been upset with the administration’s initial decision on the mandate.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, also welcomed Friday’s decision: “We believe the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman’s ability to access these critical birth control benefits,” Richards said.

The president’s plan still has some critics, however.

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski told CNN he thought Obama is “just kicking the can down the road.”

“He’s hasn’t really addressed our concerns,” Wenski said. “I think the only thing to do is…to take back the whole thing.”

In recent days, as they sensed the political tide turning in their favor, several USCCB officials have indicated they wanted to go for more than just a broader exemption and wanted the entire contraception mandate eliminated.

That tack may have less appeal in light of the White House’s new plan. But that may not stop Catholic conservatives from keeping up the pressure on Obama.

William Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League, called the new policy a “ploy” and said Catholics “will only be impelled to revolt.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins likewise called the proposal “paperwork gimmicks.”

“This revised HHS mandate does nothing to change the fundamentally anti-religious, anti-conscience and anti-life contraceptive mandate,” he said.

On the other side, some abortion rights supporters were also unhappy.

“This administration has shown that it will not stand with women when it comes to supporting access to, and easing the availability of, reproductive healthcare services,” said Jon O’Brien, head of Catholics for Choice. “One wonders what has been gained by this ‘accommodation.’ It certainly isn’t the support of Catholics.”

Panel: Should all employers provide contraception/birth control coverage at no cost?

By Tracy Simmons

This morning President Barack Obama announced that faith-based organizations will not have to provide free birth control to their employees. Instead,  insurance companies will be directly responsible for providing free contraception.

The change to the administration’s health care policy comes after an uproar from religious leaders, many from the Catholic church, who say mandating religious employers provide free birth control and contraception coverage violates religious liberties.

Still, not everyone is satisfied.

We asked our SpokaneFAVS panelists what they thought.

Should employers be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost?

Sam Fletcher

Insurers need to cover birth control at no extra cost. Obama’s original proposal was good. Americans want it (even a majority of Catholic Americans), there’s an exemption for churches and religious non-profits, and in this tough economy, Americans need it. Not only that, but in some states the same law has been in effect for a decade or more —  without objection from people in those states, religious or otherwise. It’s a utilitarian good in that it encourages parents to raise children when they are financially and emotionally prepared, and like any form of contraception, reduces the overall number of abortions — a compromise that should appeal to religious conservatives.

Faith in America runs and thrives on a social contract that enables everyone in America to practice their faith as they see fit: Constitutional freedom of religion. No one in America should feel imposed upon by a religious belief that they do not share. Catholics, protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, and others benefit from this great and elegant compromise. If the Roman Catholic Church demands that all Americans — Catholic or not — be obliged by its edicts on contraception, who is to say that all Americans shouldn’t be obliged by Muslim rules of halal, Orthodox Jewish regulations concerning menstruation, or Hindu beliefs about eating meat?

In America, you are allowed to practice your faith openly and without fear of persecution because of a singular and elegant compromise: Your rights end where the rights of another begin. You are free to believe that contraception is sinful, but as an American, you are asked to give the same respect and tolerance for the beliefs of others that are afforded to yourself.

Sam Fletcher

Laura Kipp

Of course! It’s cheaper than paying for an unwanted baby‘s birth and healthcare.  Reproductive needs are one of the most important things healthcare should be covering and birth control should always be covered.  People have to be given a chance to behave responsibly.  And not providing birth control, or ignoring reality, is not going to change it.  On the other hand, making birth control available hardly compels those that don’t want it, to use it.  An argument could be made about the harm chemical birth control can cause, but it is besides the point.  Just like a decrease in high school sex education (abstinence only programs) in this country has led to an increase in teen pregnancy rates. Yet some will still bury their head in the sand.  In summary, whatever leads to less unwanted babies should always be a priority, as unhappy babies don’t go away and aren’t cheap.   It’s an investment for the company if nothing else.

Laura Kipp

Pastor Eric Blauer

I would hope that there will be a number of “Health Care” options for employers that make room for Religious tradition and conviction.

Growing government mandates and requirements are a path towards a greater confusion of separation of church and state in my opinion.

Forcing religious organizations to provide access and coverage to abortion services and other family planning options is guaranteed to create a massive exodus of service providers or a reorganization of mission and services to the general public.

The result of these types of legislative endeavors against religious service providers will be that city and state social services will be crushed by the inflow of people and costs. Taxes will have to be significantly raised to cover services private organizations used to cover.

In a time when city and state budgets are being slashed, this type of civil moralizing is going to produce crippling problems all in the name of progressive social engineering.

Eric Blauer

Mark Kadel

Yes. However if for religious reasons they do not believe in contraception, they should be allowed an exception without fines or penalties.

Mark Kadel

M.C. Paul

Yes they should, for several reasons.

Have we lost sight of the fact that birth control is foremost a healthcare issue? Pregnancy is risky for women, even in our country with all our modern medical resources. A report in 2009 from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, found that about 500 out of the four million American women who give birth every year die during childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications. That’s an arguably small percentage and might not seem to be of great significant — until it’s your own mother, sister, aunt, niece or yourself who dies.

A recent opinion piece by Amy Goodman quotes Loretta Ross, national coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective in Atlanta addressing the notion that if women can’t get birth control through their (Catholic) employer, they can simply go elsewhere. She says, “This rule (that employers provide birth control at no cost to employees) really allows low-income women, women who are dependent on their health care, to access birth control — women of color, in particular … if you don’t want to use birth control, don’t buy it, don’t use it. But don’t block others who do want to use it, who cannot afford it, from accessing it.”

Birth control pills in particular are often prescribed for myriad women’s health issues beyond preventing pregnancy. Women with irregular periods, including those in perimenopause, are often prescribed birth control pills to regulate their menstrual cycle. Taking birth control pills can decrease the risk of ovarian or endometrial cancer, lessen heavy menstrual bleeding that can lead to anemia and lessen debilitating menstrual pain.

Like any other health related issue, the discussion of who should be taking birth control pills, and why, should be between a woman and her healthcare provider. But that won’t happen if a woman is financially prohibited from purchasing this drug because she is not covered under her employer’s health insurance policy.

M.C. Paul

Thomas J. Brown

If the question were merely should businesses provide this type of health care, then I would say, yes they should. Whether or not the business agrees with the use of contraceptives from a moral standpoint, the decision to use birth control is one that should be left solely at the discretion of each individual employee. Moreover, having employees who are in good health (use of certain contraceptives help prevent the transmission of STIs), and who are not taking leave due to pregnancy, increases productivity and is good for business.

However, the question is not asking about moral obligations, it’s asking about legal ones. Should a business be required to provide such insurance. While there are laws that require businesses of certain sizes to provide health care to their employees, those laws do not mandate which plans the business should choose. Our government is already overreaching in many areas, and a private corporation deserves to make private decisions about how it operates. There are a number of low and no-cost resources available to those whose health care does not cover family planning, as well as for those who lack health care altogether.

To sum it all up, it’s in a business’s best interest to do so, but I don’t think it should be legally mandated. With that said, I’m in favor of social medicine, which I think should be required to provide contraception and birth control.

Thomas J. Brown

Rev. Bill Ellis

We live in a country in which employers are not, on the whole, required to offer health insurance.  So I assume this question applies only to those employers who do offer health insurance to employees.  And yes, if an employer offers health insurance then it ought to cover contraception.  Pregnancy is not a disease, but if we are serious about cutting down on abortion then we need to get serious about making sure that contraception is universally available and very inexpensive.  Our abortion rate is as high as it is not because we are more careless or less moral than, for example, the Scandinavians.  It is as high as it is because we refuse to take birth control for granted, at significant social cost.  The moral dilemmas created by funding contraception are real for some people and institutions, and this isn’t the venue to address those issues, which can be rather complex.  What we can say is that safe and effective contraception is the best way to control population, and prevent abortions.

It gets sticky when the employer is the Roman Catholic Church, or an institution such as a hospital founded and run under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church.  I can see why the American bishops are upset at the idea that such institutions could be required to offer services they believe are fundamental contrary to the doctrines of the church.  I am glad I don’t have to make this decision, but if I did have to make it, I would except those organizations that can prove as a matter of religious doctrine that they are opposed to contraception.

Rev. Bill Ellis

Rev. Alan Eschenbacher

No, not in the current format. Medical coverage is expensive in any form, medications are also expensive, everyone should take some responsibility for their own coverage and expenses. Unless we are going to go to a government operated “medical coverage for all” type of system, which would be very difficult to administrate (not impossible though). All that to say this  — unless we go to that government run system, employers will not stand for mandatory coverages and impositions ; they never have. It is all about costs, profits, greed etc. Doing the “right” thing will not be a factor for 80 percent of employers. The other 20 percent already do the right thing in most cases.

Rev. Alan Eschenbacher

Readers, what do you think?

Obama to exempt religious groups from contraception mandate

By David Gibson
Religion News Service

Facing growing backlash from religious groups over the administration’s birth control insurance plan, President Obama on Friday will unveil a new arrangement whereby insurers at religiously affiliated institutions — such as Catholic hospitals and universities — will not have to provide contraception coverage.

The new approach effectively removes faith-based organizations from any involvement in providing contraceptive coverage or even telling employees how to find such coverage. It also maintains Obama’s pledge to ensure that almost all women with health insurance will not have to pay for it.

“These religious institutions will not have to offer it [contraception coverage] to their employees and do not have to pay for it,” said a senior administration official about an hour before the president is to make the official announcement, which is expected at 12:30pm EST.

Five reasons why Obama is losing the contraception fight

David Gibson
Religion News Service

The White House has surprised observers and disappointed some liberal allies by signaling that it is willing to compromise and provide a broader religious exemption in its controversial regulations requiring all employers to provide free contraception coverage.

Given that birth control use is almost universal – even among Catholics – many wonder why the Obama administration could wind up retreating on its pledge.

Here are five reasons that may help explain the political dynamic the president is facing:

1. It’s about religious freedom, not birth control: U.S. Catholic bishops, who led the battle against the Health and Human Services Department mandate, know that they long ago lost their own flock on the contraception issue — 98 percent of Catholics use birth control, according to surveys. So they have carefully reframed the issue as a fight for religious freedom – an effort to keep the government from forcing the Catholic Church and other religious groups to subsidize something that goes against their teachings. That makes it a violation of conscience, a sacred principle that transcends any specific tenet of faith.

That argument also lends itself to the kind of heated rhetoric that plays well in today’s supercharged political atmosphere. For example, bishops and their allies are accusing the president of “anti-Catholicism” and worse: “The Obama administration has just told the Catholics of the United States, ‘To hell with you!’ ” Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik said after the HHS regulations were announced.

The bishops don’t have as much credibility with the laity as they used to, thanks to the clergy sex abuse scandal, among other things. But Catholics are still a potent tribe, and if outsiders are seen as attacking the church, Catholics can get defensive – and they can get even.

2. Obama has lost even the support of his liberal Catholic allies: Case in point: the HHS mandate has been opposed by liberal and centrist Catholics who have supported the administration on a range of other issues — including the Catholic Health Association and the NETWORK social justice lobby — and even went to bat to help pass health care reform despite threats from the bishops.

The president “utterly botched” the religious exemptions issue, wrote Washington Post columnist and liberal Catholic E.J. Dionne, and “Obama threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus.”

“J’accuse!” Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for the liberal National Catholic Reporter, wrote in a florid column that channeled Émile Zola’s famous 1898 letter accusing the French government of anti-Semitism in the Dreyfus affair. “The issue of conscience protections is so foundational, I do not see how I ever could, in good conscience, vote for this man again.”

3. It’s not just Catholics: Even though evangelicals and other conservative Protestants generally don’t have religious objections to contraception, they do have a big problem with “big government” and with perceived infringements on religious freedom. Evangelicals – both their leaders and their troops – have never been big Barack Obama supporters anyway, so they were happy to provide any electoral and rhetorical muscle the Catholic hierarchy could not muster.

“We do not exaggerate when we say that this is the greatest threat to religious freedom in our lifetime,” evangelical leaders Timothy George and Chuck Colson wrote in an open letter to their fellow believers on Wednesday (Feb. 8). George and Colson compared the administration mandates to policies enacted in Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler.

4. It gives Republicans a potent campaign wedge issue: Mitt Romney wasted no time in accusing Obama of launching an “assault on religion” by way of the contraception mandate, and he declared that his first act as president would be to overturn the HHS regulations. “Remarkably, under this president’s administration, there is an assault on religion, an assault on the conviction and the religious beliefs of members of our society,” Romney said.

Romney’s rivals, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, were not to be outdone, and ramped up their rhetoric against Obama – while also noting that Romney had accepted similar policies while he was governor of Massachusetts.

In short, this is a political fight that the White House neither wants nor needs in an already tough re-election campaign.

5. Obama needs the Catholic vote: In particular, he needs the support of white Catholics, which is the core of this large swing vote (nearly one-quarter of the electorate). They are concentrated in crucial battleground states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and while Obama won the overall Catholic vote 54 percent to 46 percent in 2008, he lost the white Catholic vote, 47 percent to 53 percent.

“To the extent Catholic voters think of this as a religious liberty issue, it does have the potential to pull Catholic voters toward Republicans or away from Democrats,” John Green, an expert on religious voting patterns and director of the University of Akron’s Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, told Bloomberg Businessweek.

A poll on the contraception mandate released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute showed Catholics overall tended to support free contraceptive coverage, but white Catholics were evenly split on the issue. The Obama campaign can’t afford to sacrifice any of those votes, or risk watching the issue grow as a political liability when the election season heats up.