U.S. rule highlights Catholic tensions over contraception
New rules requiring free access to prescription birth control for women with health insurance go into effect on Wednesday, but controversy lingers at some Catholic institutions struggling to balance the requirement with their opposition to contraception.
At Georgetown University, the nation’s oldest Catholic university, students and administration officials are still wrestling with the requirement to cover contraceptives as part of larger effort to expand no-cost preventive care for women.
The requirement exempts churches and gives religious groups a one-year reprieve. Georgetown leaders, now preparing for returning students, have said they will not allow student health plans to include birth control this year.
Other religious groups are pushing back further by filing lawsuits or dropping health insurance coverage altogether.
President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul also calls for more no-cost screenings, check-ups and other services starting in 2014. The services are aimed at holding down spiraling health care costs by catching illnesses early, curbing complications or preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Catholic Church officials, Republicans and other conservatives have blasted the inclusion of artificial birth control, which is against church doctrine. Opponents said the rule, as it stands, does not go far enough to allow an opt-out for religious-affiliated groups such as charities or schools.
Obama, a Democrat, has softened the rule to allow more time for a compromise with religious groups over how to implement it without trampling their beliefs, but also without denying contraception to those with different views.
For example, health insurers and not the organizations could cover the costs.
Women’s health advocates and other supporters laud the new services. About 47 million women covered by health insurance will benefit, according to federal health officials.
“This law puts women and their doctors, not insurance companies or the government, in charge of health care decisions,” U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. [more]