The White House released new birth control guidelines last Friday (we broke them down here) in hopes of reaching a compromise with religious groups and organizations that don't want to subsidize whatever they personally equate with baby-killing: contraceptives, sterilization, Plan B, those stress dreams you have that you're somehow eight months pregnant without ever noticing.
It's a solid proposal that promised free employee coverage of birth control "while respecting religious concerns"; women working for bosses who wanted to restrict their reproductive choice would get contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies instead of their employers, who then could no longer claim they would be banished to hell for allowing their staffers to obtain free Yasmin. A NWLC expert told us the plan would work much like vision care.
Shockingly, however, our nation's Roman Catholic bishops were dissatisfied by the administration's proposal and said they would continue fighting the federal mandate in court. According to the NYT:
The bishops said the proposal seemed to address part of their concern about the definition of religious employers who could be exempted from the requirement to offer contraceptive coverage at no charge to employees. But they said it did not go far enough and failed to answer many questions, like who would pay for birth control coverage provided to employees of certain nonprofit religious organizations.
"The administration's proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries," said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education and Catholic charities. The Department of Health and Human Services offers what it calls an ‘accommodation,' rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches."
How odd that the White House is wary about "accommodating" (that's actually a very nice way to phrase it) medical and educational institutions that tend to prioritize the non-life of an embryo over the life of the mother. First-class hospitals, schools, and charities do not make shit up based on the Bible/their own intuition about how the body works. (BIG GLARING EXAMPLE: Plan B does not cause abortion, no matter how many times you call it the "abortion pill.")
But this is why religious exemptions are a bad idea regarding women's health; the bishops won't be happy until religious groups and organizations reserve the right to tell women that they have to pay for their whore pills themselves. (In $$$ and in the afterlife!) They're not just talking about churches and non-profit groups, either; Dolan said it was wrong that the new rules wouldn't let religious bosses who run private, nonsecular companies dictate how their employees should live. (We wrote about the for-profit companies currently fighting Obamacare for that "right" yesterday.)
"In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage," Cardinal Dolan said, "we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath. We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences."
"The White House has made no concessions to the religious conscience claims of private businesses, and the whole spirit of the ‘compromise' is minimalist," Archbishop Chaput chimed in.
Wait, why do we care what these men think about women's health again? This is not the United States of Bishops. This is not the Vatican. This is a country where unplanned pregnancies total $4 billion a year in direct medical costs alone and the average cost per publicly financed unintended pregnancy is nearly $10,000. A country where women say contraception has a significant impact on their lives by allowing them to take better care of themselves and their families, support themselves financially, complete their education, and stay gainfully employed. A country where access to free birth control actually leads to lower rates of abortions.
The White House says it has two compelling reasons for the contraceptive mandate: promoting public health and gender equality. If that's the case (thanks!), the administration can't keep compromising with religious leaders whose most compelling goal is to promote words written in an old book.
The bishops rejected the White House's first contraception mandate compromise last year. They're rejecting it now. And they'll continue to reject it until women's access to reproductive health is satisfactorily compromised.