Catholic bishops and their GOP allies have been in an uproar ever since the Obama administration announced new rules that require employers, including most religiously-affiliated institutions, to cover contraception in their health plans with no cost-sharing. Republican candidates have accused Obama of waging a “war against religious freedom.” Rick Santorum went so far as to say Obama has put America on “the path” of beheading devout citizens.
The less shrill voices have implored Obama to “compromise” by broadening the religious exemption to let religiously-affiliated hospitals refuse women contraception. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has made it clear they’re not interested in compromise. According to a report in USA Today, they aren’t just demanding a broader religious exemption from the new contraception coverage rule — they want contraception coverage removed from the Affordable Care Act altogether:
The White House is “all talk, no action” on moving toward compromise, said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “There has been a lot of talk in the last couple days about compromise, but it sounds to us like a way to turn down the heat, to placate people without doing anything in particular,” Picarello said. “We’re not going to do anything until this is fixed.”
That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for “good Catholic business people who can’t in good conscience cooperate with this.”
“If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I’d be covered by the mandate,” Picarello said.
In short, Catholic bishops are saying that federal laws shouldn’t apply to anyone who claims to have a religious objection to them. Houses of worship and other religious nonprofits are already completely exempt from the rule. It is only when religious institutions choose to go into business as hospitals and serve the general public that they are bound by the same laws as everyone else. Yet the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has promised a legal challenge.
But the organization does not speak for a majority of American Catholics, 52 percent of whom support requiring health plans to cover contraception. Several major Catholic universities and hospitals already offer contraception coverage.