PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — President Obama is nixing a requirement that religious employers pay for insurance coverage that provides free birth control services.
The president says religiously-operated institutions, like Catholic hospitals and universities, will not be required to pay for birth control when insurance mandates kick in later this year.
“Religious liberty will be protected,” said the president “and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women.”
Under the new plan, women who work at Catholic institutions will still get free birth control, but it won’t be paid for by the Church.
“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,” he said.
But Catholic Bishop David Zubik told KDKA Political Editor Jon Delano the move by the President does not go far enough.
“That’s a smoke and mirrors. The fact is it has to be paid for by some place, and that may result in premiums increasing,” Bishop Zubik said.
And the bishop says new policy still violates Catholic holdings against birth control for anyone.
“The concern for me still is that religious institutions or anybody for that matter being forced to do something that goes against their conscience,” the Bishop said.
But the president says in a pluralistic society all women should have insurance coverage of birth control.
“No woman’s health should depend on who she is, or where she works, or how much money she makes. Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health. Period,” Obama said.
That’s the basic dilemma.
Is a woman entitled to birth control no matter where she works, or can religious institutions — even if they don’t pay for it — deny their employees access?
The administration says preventing unwanted pregnancies actually saves insurance companies money.
The president insists the nation can balance religious liberty with women’s health needs.
“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 — not the hospital, not the charity — will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive services free of charge without copays and without hassles,” Obama said.
But Bishop Zubik says those employees still cannot be provided contraceptives without violating Catholic religious views.
“We couldn’t do that. We could not provide that insurance because it goes against what we believe to be true,” Zubik said.
Even if they don’t pay for it, Catholic bishops say they don’t want health insurance covering contraceptives, but women’s health groups say that is an essential part of women’s health services.
“The employee should have the right to access the health care they think they need,” said Rick Baird, president & CEO of Adagio Health Services, a women’s health provider. “To me, family planning is a public health issue. It’s not a morality issue, and it should not be directed by a theological institution.”
But Zubik insists that by mandating all insurance plans include free contraceptives, which the Affordable Care Act does beginning August 1st, insurance covering Catholic institutions violate Catholic beliefs.
“My concern is that somehow when you take a look at health services the impression that is being given is that pregnancy is a disease and that life is something that can be easily done away with,” said Zubik.
Zubik wants the mandate for contraceptives repealed, while Obama insists all women should be treated equally.
“Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where they work,” Obama said.
Following his announcement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the compromise a step in the right direction, but reserved further judgment.