Amid a backlash from many Catholics and proponents of religious liberty, President Barack Obama announced Friday that his administration will not require religious institutions like hospitals and universities to provide free contraception to their employees in their health insurance.
Speaking to reporters at the White House Friday, Obama offered a compromise that would allow women to obtain free contraception but would require them to obtain it directly from their insurance companies if their employers object to birth control because of religious beliefs.
“Whether you’re a teacher or a small businesswoman or a nurse or a janitor, no woman’s ‘s health should depend on who she is, or where she works, or how much money she makes,” Obama said, calling free contraceptive care a “core principle” of his health care law, which requires that all preventive services be provided at no cost to patients.
Obama went out of his way to say that he supports freedom of religion, pointing out that one of his stints as a community organizer in Chicago was funded by a Catholic group.
“As a citizen and as a Christian I cherish this right,” Obama said. “I saw that local churches did more good for a community than a government program ever could.”
Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Health Association each approved of the compromise, which the White House is calling an “accommodation,” in statements on Friday.
Experts on religion said the accommodation isn’t enough. “It’s a shell game,” says Robert Destro, law professor at Catholic University.
Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, said he remained unsatisfied.
“A resolution to this issue cannot only cover ‘religious’ employers,” Pavone said. “Religious freedom, which includes freedom of conscience, does not belong only to religious entities but to every American. There are many non-religious reasons to object to the Administration’s policy.”
Marie Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, a registered nurse and a canon lawyer, took note, however, that the administration has still not changed it’s definition of who is exempt. Instead, Obama just established, for this controversy, a special provision for “non-exempt religious groups.”
It’s still a narrow definition focused on churches that employ and serve people of their faith, not schools, hospitals, social services or other ministries that are recognized under the tax code as exempt religious organizations.
Until that’s changed, Hilliard says, the government is still “cherry picking to see which groups will be seen by our government as worthy of exemptions and which wont. “
More reaction, as it trickles in, right here.