Some Catholic organizations Friday adopted a wait-and-study stance to President Barack Obama's tweaks to his proposal for religious nonprofit groups that object to insuring birth control for women.
Other religious organizations continued to criticize the plan, while some women's groups maintained their applause for it. The clarifications to the proposal are technical and don't include major revisions.
The federal health care law, the Affordable Care Act, requires most employers to provide insurance coverage of contraception free of charge to female workers as part of preventive health care. The law exempted churches and other houses of worship, but religious charities, universities, hospitals and even some for-profit businesses have objected.
The government's new proposal, which is subject to a 60-day comment period, has two parts:
» It would more simply define the religious organizations that are exempt from the requirement altogether. For example, a mosque whose food pantry serves the whole community would not have to comply.
» For other religious employers, the proposal would create a buffer between them and contraception coverage. Female employees would still have free access to the preventive health care through insurers or a third party, but the employer would not have to arrange for the coverage or pay for it. The government would reimburse insurers.
The Nebraska Catholic Conference deferred to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in commenting on the proposed changes. The U.S. conference issued a statement saying, in part: “We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely.”
The Archdiocese of Omaha also referred to the national Catholic bishops' statement.
“We haven't had the opportunity to read the revised guidelines,” said Deacon Tim McNeil of the Omaha Archdiocese.
From the beginning some religious organizations, including the Catholic Church and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, generally have protested the requirement because they object to use of contraceptives or consider the requirement an infringement on religious liberty or an affront to the sanctity of human life.
More than 40 lawsuits have been filed by religious nonprofit groups and businesses stating the mandate violates their religious beliefs.
On the other hand, some women's groups Friday cheered the federal plan. “Planned Parenthood of the Heartland applauds the Obama administration's new policy regulation, which will ensure that a woman can access no-co-pay birth control as part of basic health care no matter where she works,” Jill June, president of the regional Planned Parenthood, said through a written statement. “Access to affordable birth control is a basic and essential component of women's preventive health care.”
Andrea Friedman of the National Partnership for Women & Families said Obama has stood by his commitment to make sure that women receive contraception at no extra cost. “So far we're very pleased,” Friedman said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.
Previously, Friedman said, the Obama administration had suggested one option would be for a third party to step in, provide a separate insurance plan for women and take the administrative burden from the employer.
Friedman said one of the main clarifications made Friday involves how insurers would fund covering contraceptive services in cases where they would step in and provide that service for self-insured groups. Friedman said they would receive a reduction in fees they would pay to participate in the insurance exchanges that are part of the federal Affordable Care Act.
The National Association of Evangelicals on Friday quickly rejected the plan in general. “The Obama administration should have done the right thing and dropped the contraception mandate, or at least should have exempted all religious organizations,” said Leith Anderson, the association's president.
The Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, said through a written statement: “We are steadfast in our resolve to see the mandate repealed and to protect religious liberty and the rights of individuals to follow the teachings of their faith.”
And Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said many of his clients will continue to protest. The Becket Fund represents religious nonprofits and businesses, including Hobby Lobby, in lawsuits.
Hobby Lobby, which sued the administration over the rule, would not be affected by the change because it is not a religious employer, though the owner of that company has objected on religious and moral grounds.
“This is a moral decision for them,” Duncan said of his clients. “Why doesn't the government just exempt them?”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
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