A group of religious leaders testifying before Congress about the birth control mandate in February. (Carolyn …The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reiterated its threat to sue the Obama administration over its rule that all employers must offer contraception without a copay in their insurance plans.
Churches and other organizations that mainly employ and serve people of one religion are exempt from the rule, but the bishops say religiously affiliated hospitals, schools and other organizations should also be exempt. In February, President Barack Obama announced an "accommodation"—that insurance companies would offer the contraception coverage directly to employees, so that employers wouldn't have to violate their conscience by being a middleman in the exchange. Later, the administration said third-party companies would offer the birth control coverage, and that religious schools with self-insured plans would be exempt from the contraception requirement.
In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, the bishops' conference rejected President Obama's accommodation, asserting that religiously affiliated employers will be forced to drop insurance for its employees entirely in order to avoid violating their beliefs that contraception and sterilization are wrong.
At least one religious school is making good on the threat. The Franciscan University of Steubenville, a small Catholic college in Ohio, announced Tuesday that it will drop coverage for students entirely rather than "violate the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church on the sacredness of human life," Reuters reported. The change will affect 200 out of the school's 2,500 students, although with its overwhelmingly Catholic student body—the university has been called "The Most Catholic University in the World"—the Franciscan University would likely fall into the category of exempt employers. Some other Catholic and evangelical schools are suing over the mandate and have threatened to drop health coverage. (It's possible that the Supreme Court will announce next month that it has struck down the health care law altogether, which would make such suits unnecessary.)
Most employer insurance plans will have to start covering birth control this August, but religiously affiliated employers will have another year before they must come into compliance. The bishops want the government to either rescind the mandate altogether or add a clause that allows any employer to opt out if he or she has moral or religious qualms. President Obama said in February that he respected religious freedom but that all women should have access to affordable birth control, no matter their employers' religious beliefs.
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