(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama announced today that “religious organizations” such as charities and hospitals will not be forced by the federal government to directly pay insurance premiums that cover sterilization, contraception and abortifacients but that their insurance providers must nonetheless provide those services free of charge to women insured by those organizations.
Obama did not announce any change at all to the administrations’ sterilization-contraceptive-abortifacient mandate insofar as it applies to individuals and private-sector business owners who will still be forced by the government to buy and/or provide health insurance plans that cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients even if those things directly violate the teachings of their religion and their conscience.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had directly and specifically asked that the administration to rescind the regulation in its entirety so that all individuals, employers and insurers, including Catholics, who have a religious or moral objection to sterilization, contraception and abortifacients would not be forced by the federal government to act against their faith and their consciences.
The bishops said that the First Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion protected Catholics and others who have a religious objection to sterilization, contraception or abortion from being forced by the government to buy insurance that pays for those things.
In recent days, leaders of other religious denominations have joined their voices to those of the Catholic bishops, decrying the regulation as an attack on the religious liberty of individuals as well as institutions.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission made a forceful appeal for Baptists to resist the regulation.
“Does the government have the right to intrude on the consciences of people to force them to pay for that which they find unconscionable?” said Land. “This goes contrary to our tradition in this country and contrary to our understanding of the First Amendment's religious freedom protections.”
"In my opinion, a Baptist needs to take a stand on this issue,” said Land. “Our Baptist forefathers went to prison and died for the freedoms that we have, and now it's our responsibility in the providence of God to defend these freedoms lest they be taken away by government fiat.’
Still, President Obama did not budge today in insisting that his government will order all insurance companies in America to provide all women with free sterilizations, contraceptives and abortifacients—and that everyone other than a religiously based organization will be forced to pay for it, whether it violates their religious beliefs or not.
“Today, we've reached a decision on how to move forward,” said Obama. “Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services--no matter where they work. So that core principle remains.
“But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company--not the hospital, not the charity--will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles,” said Obama.
“The result will be that religious organizations won’t have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly,” said Obama. “Let me repeat: These employers will not have to pay for, or provide, contraceptive services. But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women, and they'll no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year that could go towards paying the rent or buying groceries.
“Now, I've been confident from the start that we could work out a sensible approach here, just as I promised,” said Obama. “I understand some folks in Washington may want to treat this as another political wedge issue, but it shouldn’t be. I certainly never saw it that way. This is an issue where people of goodwill on both sides of the debate have been sorting through some very complicated questions to find a solution that works for everyone. With today’s announcement, we've done that. Religious liberty will be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women.”
Obama took no questions after making his statement.
At Catholic Masses across the country over the past two Sundays, Catholic priests have read letters from their local bishops explaining the church's view that the mandate is a direct attack on the First Amendment and calling on Catholics to resist it.
For example, in Catholic churches in Virginia on Sunday, priests read a letter from Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde and Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo that said: “In so ruling, the administration has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply.”
“We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law,” the bishops wrote.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told HHS in September that the regulation was an “unprecedented attack on religious liberty."
Many Democratic lawmakers defended the mandate, saying an aggressive campaign was being waged to stop it.
“Those now attacking the new health-coverage requirement claim it is an assault on religious liberty, but the opposite is true,” Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Patty Murray of Washington, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “Religious freedom means that Catholic women who want to follow their church's doctrine can do so, avoiding the use of contraception in any form. But the millions of American women who choose to use contraception should not be forced to follow religious doctrine, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.