WASHINGTON — The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops rejected the latest White House proposal on health insurance coverage of contraceptives on Thursday, saying it did not provide enough safeguards for religious hospitals, colleges, and charities that objected to such coverage for their employees.
The bishops said they would continue fighting the federal mandate in court.
The administration said the proposal, issued last Friday, would guarantee free employee coverage of birth control “while respecting religious concerns” of organizations that objected to paying or providing for it.
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 U.S. 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,” he said. “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.”
The bishops’ statement, issued after they had reviewed President Barack Obama’s proposal for six days, was more moderate and measured than the imprecations they hurled against the original rule issued by the White House early last year. Dolan said the bishops wanted to work with the administration to find a solution.
The administration had no immediate reaction to the bishops’ statement, other than to say it was not a surprise.
Under the latest proposal, churches and nonprofit religious groups that object to providing birth control coverage on religious grounds would not have to pay for it. Women who work for such organizations could get free contraceptive coverage through separate individual health insurance policies. The institution objecting to the coverage would not pay for the contraceptives. Costs would be paid by an insurance company, with the possibility that it could recoup the costs through lower health care expenses resulting in part from fewer births.