Richard M. Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has issued a clarification on the contraception "accommodation." The bishops' principal objection to the proposal is that the contraception mandate remains in place:
There has been some confusion as to what happened last weekend regarding the Obama administration’s nationwide mandate for contraception, sterilization and abortifacient drug coverage in private health plans.
A wide array of Catholic and other organizations—including the leaders of Catholic Charities USA, the University of Notre Dame, Catholic Medical Association, and over 400 other organizations—has publicly opposed the “interim final rule” the Administration issued in August 2011, which allowed only an incredibly narrow exemption for churches and religious orders. Religious organizations that contribute greatly to the common good, by serving the poorest and neediest people regardless of their faith, were defined as not being “religious enough” to qualify for the exemption.
On February 10, the Obama administration issued a final rule that locks this controversial policy into place without any change (except that some religious organizations not exempted from the mandate have an extra year to comply). Obviously the Catholic bishops reject this final rule, which is essentially identical to the interim final rule that we and so many others rejected months ago.
On the same day, in commentary that has no force of law, the administration added that in the coming year and a half it will propose an additional regulation governing how the mandate will be applied to nonprofit religious organizations that are not exempt. These organizations may voice an objection to the coverage that violates Catholic moral teaching, but insurers will ignore this objection and offer that coverage to the organization’s employees anyway, without a rider or extra payment. In short, the federal government will insert itself between the religious organization and its own employees to make sure that, in President Obama’s words, women’s health coverage “includes contraceptive services no matter where they work.” Obviously this proposal raises grave moral concerns for anyone who thinks religious organizations have a right to conduct their internal life consistent with the teachings of their faith. We hope this approach will ultimately be rejected by lawmakers in favor of a policy that truly respects the religious freedom of these organizations.
But the only action taken by the Administration this weekend that has the force of law is that it made permanent the rule that we and so many others have always opposed. Our position on this rule remains exactly the same as before.
If President Obama wishes to respect religious institutions that serve the poor, he will recognize them as authentically “religious” and give them an exemption. Then we can move on to discuss the religious freedom rights of insurers, other employers, and individuals who want a plan that does not violate their beliefs. As it is, the Administration has put us back to square one.