Birth control rules: The Catholic bishops are not impressed

February 7, 2013
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, is congratulated by two prelates after being elevated in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, on Feb. 18, 2012. (Andrew Medichin - AP)
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (Andrew Medichin - AP)

When the Obama administration published new rules Friday on insurance coverage for  contraceptive health, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said they would take time to "study the proposed regulations closely." They have now finished their study and have come to a verdict: The new set of rules, like the old set of rules, are a non-starter. You can read the full statement here, and it essentially boils down to three objections.

First, the law still requires contraceptives to be provided to employees at Catholic-run hospitals and universities (not by the employer, but rather by that employer's insurance plan). "The Administration's proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries," the bishops write. "It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education, and Catholic charities."

Second is that employees at these institutions would get coverage for contraceptives under a stand-alone plan created by the company's health insurance plan. The bishops worry that there's no firewall between their own plan, which does not cover contraceptives, and this stand-alone policy. That, in their view, leaves open "the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities."

The third objection: Health and Human Services does not allow an opt-out for private companies, the Hobby Lobbys of the world. They are required to provide contraceptive coverage or would likely face federal fines. "Friday's action confirms that HHS has no intention to provide any exemption or accommodation at all to this 'third class,'" the bishops write.

The bishops' statement isn't exactly a surprise: Reaction from other religious groups who opposed the regulation was roundly negative last week. The legal fight over this regulation won't end anytime soon.

 

 

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Brad Plumer | February 7, 2013