WASHINGTON: US Roman Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the Obama Administration’s latest bid for compromise over a hotly disputed health policy that requires employees at religiously affiliated institutions to have access to insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Cardinal Timothy Donlan of New York, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said his group would redouble efforts to reach an agreement on the contraceptives issue after more than a year of protest and scores of federal lawsuits from Catholics groups and other social conservatives.
But the cardinal, one of the most prominent voices in the American Catholic Church, said new federal rules proposed last week offer only “second-class status” to church-affiliated universities, hospitals and charities by failing to grant them the same full exemption afforded to houses of worship.
“These ministries are integral to our Church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches,” Donlan said in a statement released by the bishops conference.
“The government would require all employees in our ‘accommodated’ ministries to have the illicit coverage — they may not opt out, nor even opt out for their children,” he said.
His remarks, coming on the heels of rejections from other opponents, including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, illustrate the scale of resistance facing one of the most controversial provisions of President Barack Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The Catholic Health Association of the United States, the leading church-affiliated healthcare provider, declined to comment on Thursday, saying it was still seeking input from its 2,200 members, including 600 hospitals.
The contraceptives coverage is backed by liberal Catholic groups and women’s rights activists.
The healthcare law already requires secular employers to cover all contraceptives and sterilisation methods approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, including the “morning after” pill.
But the administration is trying to reach an accommodation for religious nonprofit institutions whose employees would begin receiving coverage on Aug.1.