Responding to growing criticism from Catholic institutions and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the White House is expected to announce a compromise of its new rule requiring employers and insurers to provide contraception benefits without additional cost sharing. While the details are still sketchy, early reports indicate that the modification may be similar on the so-called “Hawaii model,” where employers must include contraception in their employee insurance plans, but can invoke a refusal clause to exclude such services. Companies that opt-out of offering contraception coverage, inform their employees of their decision and refer them to a provider of contraception insurance. “Employees can then purchase contraception coverage from their insurer at a cost no higher than the enrollee’s pro-rata share of the price the employer would have paid had it not exercised the religious exemption.”
But this so-called “contraception rider” modification is already not sitting well with Catholics, who have been the most vocal opponents of the administration’s rule. “The concept…is you don’t have to do this, you just have to refer people to this. That seems to me like saying in your schools, ‘we’re not going to have pornographic websites in our websites, but we’re going to have to have referrals to where the kids can go to find those websites,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl told MSNBC’s Morning Joe just minutes after news of the compromise broke early Friday morning. “I don’t think it makes sense,” he said and went on to dismiss the fact that some women receive birth control prescriptions to treat health ailments, like ovarian cancer, that have nothing to do with pregnancy:
WUERL: Our concern is our basic freedom and I’m not sure it makes sense to say how about if we compromise away parts of your freedom? How about if this part is acceptable to us and this part isn’t? I would want to see exactly what we’re being offered. […]
SAM STEIN (HUFFFINGTON POST): What would you tell someone like that who actually requires birth control for her own health?
WUERL: The question of access is very different from the question of freedom. Access to contraceptives, access to sterilization, access even to abortifations is a reality today. You can purchase these things. you can get these things. I’m told it’s not quite as expensive to go in and buy contraceptives….but to say that because we want access you must lose your freedom… the question is freedom.
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Bishop William Lori, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, has also described the Hawaii model as a failure, arguing that it forces Catholic institutions to make a referral “to a service that it regards as intrinsically immoral.”
“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,” Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in USA Today. “We’re not going to do anything until this is fixed,” and suggested that that would require removing the provision from the health care law altogether.
Republicans are also skeptical of the yet-to-be announced accommodation. As Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) tweeted out this morning, “Unless Pres Obama is reversing the #HHSmandate entirely, there’s no “compromise” when it comes to Americans’ religious freedom.”