Responding to the furor caused by a White House ruling that religious institutions such as Catholic hospitals and charities (but not churches themselves) would be required to cover contraceptives in their employees' health insurances plans, President Obama announced an alteration to the policy Friday that would shift the financial burden from the employer to the insurance company. Obama announced the revision in the White House, saying, "No woman's health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes," but also acknowledging the conflict with "the principle of religious liberty," adding, "As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right." His plan mandates that insurance companies shoulder the costs of contraceptives for women whose employers object to birth control on religious grounds.
Catholic bishops and other religious leaders had objected to the original mandate, as the use of birth control is considered a sin by the Catholic Church. Republicans and even some Democrats joined them in criticizing the mandate, saying that it violated constitutional freedom of religion. U.S. News blogger Peter Roff argues, "Forcing religious schools, charities, and healthcare providers to choose between the moral dictates of their faith and the obligations forced upon them by Obama's new rule is, for the president, a losing proposition." However, his TJS bloleague Susan Milligan urges readers to remember that the requirement is about more than just religion.
[T]here is a moral question, too, for women. Should they be treated like another class of people, provided less healthcare coverage, simply because they choose to have sex without the intent to procreate? It's especially jarring for a woman who might not be Catholic, perhaps employed as a cleaning staffer at a hospital, who would then be forced to live by the rules of a church hierarchy she does not choose.
Obama officials insist that, even with the revision to the policy, the president has not backed down from the original mission: to ensure contraceptive coverage for all women. And critics are no likely t to be satisfied with the compromise. Even with the amendment, there will be political consequences for the administration as it campaigns for reelection.
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