Obama's contraceptive rule has more religious support than you might think

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is up in arms over the Obama administration’s proposed rule on insurance coverage for contraceptives. It says religiously affiliated organizations, like Catholic hospitals and universities, shouldn’t have to comply. (Click here for the full statement.)

The rule was issued under the health reform law, which requires full coverage for preventive health care. It classifies contraceptives as a form of prevention.

Last week, the Obama administration offered a compromise. Under the plan, religiously affiliated organizations can exclude contraceptive coverage for their employees, but their insurers must provide it to the employees directly. For employees of actual houses of worship, coverage can be excluded entirely. But the bishops were unmoved.

Who supports the Obama administration in this dispute?

The Catholic Health Association for one. It is among the administration’s more vehement backers.

The association, which represents more than 600 Catholic hospitals and health systems nationwide, praised the Obama compromise. It said the proposed rule “protects religious liberty and the conscience rights of Catholic institutions.” (Click here for the full statement.)

Another backer is the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization of nuns that represents 90 percent of Catholic women in religious orders in the United States. That group declared, “We believe the resolution the president made is a fair and helpful way for us to move forward.”

A third is the Association of Jesuit Colleges & Universities, which announced, “We commend that Obama Administration for its willingness to work with us on moving toward a solution” on the coverage issue.

Contraceptive coverage also enjoys the support of a majority of American Catholics. A poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 58 percent  believe the government should require all employers to include contraceptives in their health plans at no cost. That’s an even higher level of support than in the overall population, where it stands at 55 percent. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll produced similar results.

This public support may be the reason that mandated contraceptive coverage is already the rule in much of the country. Twenty-eight states require it, and eight of them have no exception for religious organizations. In these eight states, the Obama compromise actually grants religious institutions more leeway than they had before.

Obama based his rule on Hawaii’s approach, which has been in place for over a decade. (Click here for the text of the Hawaii law.)

Coverage for contraceptives would be a sensitive issue no matter what the administration proposed. There is no resolution that is going to fully please everyone.

However, the issue is hardly new. And it does not neatly divide supporters of coverage from supporters of religion. As the recent statements reveal, many of the religious institutions most directly affected find Obama’s compromise to be quite reasonable.

The least productive approach is to use the issue to further polarize the public. Opponents have called the rule an unprecedented affront to religion. If that is what they truly believe, why have they been silent about the states where a stricter rule is already in place?

The public is best served when divisive issues drive politicians to seek constructive compromise, not ever more heated rhetoric.


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