Catholic Health Association Breaks with Bishops on HHS Birth Control Compromise

If you think women who work for Catholic hospitals should be able to access contraceptives as part of comprehensive health care packages, now would be a good time to celebrate a small victory.

Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO Catholic Health Association (CHAUSA), has accepted the compromise that Obama’s administration offered to Catholic non-profits. Keehan has officially stated that, while Obama’s latest effort is not ideal, “it was a solution that we could make work, because it allows our members not to have to buy, contract for, refer, or arrange for contraceptive services.”

There’s just one small problem: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops disagrees.

The controversy over contraceptive services in health insurance has been raging on for months. Since Catholic doctrine claims contraception is sinful, argue a wide range of Catholic employers, they should be free to exclude birth control coverage from employees’ earned benefits.

The mandate has always allowed a religious exemption for houses of worship, but never for Catholic hospitals, schools, or charities. And no matter what compromises and loopholes Obama has offered up thus far, anything that lets employees in Church-affiliated workplaces access contraceptive care without paying through the nose has been dismissed as just plain not-good-enough.

According to the new rules the Obama administration clarified late in June, insurers will handle contraceptive coverage directly, keeping employers out of the loop, in the dark, and innocent of all wrongdoing. NPR described it this way:

For entities that purchase insurance, the insurer would undertake (and pay for) the task of providing the coverage. For organizations that are self-insured and simply use an insurance company to do the paperwork, the company, acting as an administrator, would be reimbursed by the federal government through a complex structure involving the new health exchanges.

In a conference call with reporters, HHS officials said they weren’t concerned about the cost to insurance companies — paying for birth control is a lot cheaper than paying for pregnancy and childbirth.

So the insurance companies will take care of all the arrangements, ensuring that Catholic-run non-profits don’t have to sully their hands with coverage they don’t like, while preventing larger expenses down the road. Meanwhile, women get the medicine they need and earn. Everybody wins — except, the bishops argue, religious employers, who still don’t get to prevent their employees from getting non-Catholic-approved health care.

In a letter sent to Congress and the White House, the USCCB called the solution Keehan accepted “an encroachment on the conscience of our fellow citizens” and argued that women who want to have birth control covered in their health plans are free to refuse to work for Catholic organizations — a claim that, in an economic climate where millions of unemployed young people can’t afford to be choosy, seems deeply disingenuous.

Conservative Catholic and evangelical groups, as well as anti-abortion groups of all stripes, are rushing to support the bishops and cast aspersions on Keehan and CHAUSA. A spokesperson for Human Life International, speaking to religious news agency LifeSite News, noted that

Nothing in the final HHS Mandate rules changes the fact that Catholics in the United States will be required to violate their conscientious objection to immoral practices and services in violation of our First Amendment rights… Not one Catholic individual should be forced by the government to violate our religious beliefs, and I would expect any organization that represents Catholics to feel the same way.

There has been no comment — from the USCCB, Human Life International, or any other quarter — about whether women are free to use their earned benefits to obtain birth control, as if that’s not a matter of conscience and belief deeply tied to women’s individual rights and freedoms.

Nor has anyone yet been able to explain why the way a worker uses her insurance coverage is any of her employers’ business, anyway.

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.

  • Stev84

    According to the new rules the Obama administration clarified late in
    June, insurers will handle contraceptive coverage directly, keeping
    employers out of the loop, in the dark, and innocent of all wrongdoing

    This how all healthcare should function. The employers shouldn’t have any say in it.

  • ZenoFerox

    Catholic Healthcare in California managed to live for a decade under the state’s own health mandates, which are just as “draconian” as the Obama administration’s. Then suddenly it was “Oh, no! Anti-Catholic tyranny!” Hypocrites.

  • skinnercitycyclist

    That’s the problem in the first place, and why Obama was such a dick to take single-payer off the table when he started his domino-slide of caving. It is stupid and wasteful and full of controversy to tie insurance to employment, as well as bad for the economy (lowers the mobility of labor).

    That being said, the RCC is nothing but a criminal pedophile enabling conspiracy these days and should be shut down by the DOJ.

  • Bill

    What I don’t get is why people aren’t asking whether employers who are Christian Scientists should be exempt from providing insurance that covers medical procedures that are, uh, medical. That seems to me to be a very good analogy. What am I missing?

  • Sven2547

    Everybody wins — except, the bishops argue, religious employers, who still don’t get to prevent their employees from getting non-Catholic-approved health care.

    And that’s the crux of the matter. It’s not about Catholics being spared from compromising their values, it’s about Catholics reserving the “right” to take away other people’s choices.

  • Melanie Ahrens

    I’m sure if single-payer had managed to pass, the Republican Congress would never have tried to rescind it 37 times (going on 38) like they have Obamacare.

  • the moother

    Christians: not happy if they can’t make other people sad…

  • Beth

    I can’t believe this is 2013! I never thought that I would have to fight to get birth control!

  • Olive Markus

    Apparently part of the Catholic Belief System that is being infringed upon is the belief that Catholics have the God-given right to control and oppress the rest of humanity.

  • Limeade

    I’ve never understood why ‘violation of religious conscience’ is an acceptable argument against contraception/abortion access. Worst case scenario, if a woman is denied either, it could potentially become a serious health risk. The worst thing that happens when their ~conshuns is violated~ is, what? Their feelings get hurt?

  • crden

    This is especially true given that many Catholic organizations have been providing insurance that includes contraceptive access for years. I had contraceptive access with a simple co-pay when I worked for a Catholic non-profit.

  • pagansister

    How many children are those bishops raising? Do they have to wait for the “right time of the month” to have sex with their spouses so they might not get pregnant? NFP—Russian roulette. Those MEN should just shut their mouths and allow those that wish to have birth control have it through their insurance—do they actually think that Catholic women aren’t using it already? How do they explain all those Catholic families that only have 1 or 2 children instead of 10! They need to stay out of the bedrooms and private lives of those that work for Catholic health facilities—–some of whom aren’t even Catholic. Should a Catholic employee wish to prevent pregnancy using ABC, it will be her (and God’s, of course) to deal with it. I spent 10 years teaching in a Catholic school–but fortunately I didn’t have to use their insurance—I was covered by my husband’s plan.

  • Pofarmer

    That’s the crux of it right there. The Catholic bishops want the right to force their views on everyone they contact. Never mind that at one point in time 90% of catholics have used birth control. This is the Bishops acting against the Catholic masses, as well as a political play to prove they are as powerful as the U.S. govt. They must not win.

  • Pofarmer

    The bishops would like to roll it back to 1813.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    How does letting women have birth control force Catholics to violate their religious beliefs?

  • Me

    You know, I really empathize with those poor bishops. I understand because I’m in a similar boat. You see, it’s against my religious beliefs to pay taxes. My savior, the purple kangaroo of benevolence, has decreed it immoral to pay taxes– I am enraged that the government is forcing me to give up my religious beliefs. (By the way, although I deeply sympathize with those bishops, for the sake of my faith I also have to point out that they’re all wrong. Their pagan god is so shallow and silly compared to my wonderful pet purple kangaroo of benevolence, who can also teleport, and make delicious holy seafood. If you refuse to believe in the kangaroo as your deity, the dingo devil will eat you. That is all)

  • Phil

    Funny, bishops in Western European Catholic countries don’t complain when Catholic hospitals in those countries not only allow their hospital employees to utilize these services, but the hospitals themselves PROVIDE these services. Why? These services are provided as part of government run national health plans, even if paid for by private companies in places such as Germany.

    But wait, Catholic hospitals in the U.S. take government moneys for providing services to patients through Medicaid. So the question I have for the USCCB is what are you operating – a hospital or a church? It can’t be both.

  • smrnda

    Yeah, I thought you could serve either god or Mammon in their own Bible. Once you choose to serve Mammon, play by the same rules as every other money grubbing health care provider out there.

  • smrnda

    The problem with this (to me) is it treats the money pulled in by the effort of all the workers as the exclusive property of a bunch of bishops didn’t do the work who apparently get to tell these hard-working people that their work should be rewarded with shitty health insurance. It’s the ‘company town’ model. What next, will Catholic agencies start paying workers in “Jesus money” that can only be redeemed at non-sinful businesses as declared by the imprimatur of the church?

  • wombat

    Heathen! The Great Dingo is the only true saviour and purveyor of holy seafood! Your devil-kangaroo is misleading you and guiding you away from the light.

  • Gringa

    The same could go for muslims who want to practice sharia and/or ban women from positions of leadership.

  • Gringa

    Should point out that I’m talking about all business practices, not just healthcare.

  • Mira

    To me it’s like saying “in our religion, drinking is sinful. Therefore, we will make sure that you receive only gift cards to certain grocery stores and checks made out to your various rental/home services so that you CANNOT use the money you earn to purchase any form of alcohol.” Most people would explode with anger, rage, and denied alcoholism. How is this much different? None of their goddamn business what a woman (or man) decides with her/his doctor.