Catholic hospitals are opposing the federal government’s recent decision to include birth control in a list of preventative services to be covered by insurance plans without co-payments.
A provision in the law expanded preventive health-care benefits for women, and the administration said last week that must include birth control with no copays. The Catholic Health Association says a proposed conscience exemption is so narrowly written it would apply only to houses of worship. Some other religious-based organizations agree.
“I call this the parish housekeeper exemption — that’s about all it covers,” said Sister Carol Keehan, president of the 600-member umbrella group for Catholic hospitals. “What we are trying to do is make workable the conscience protection the administration says it is willing to give.”
Most Catholic hospitals do not cover birth control for their employees, Keehan said, but in some cases they are required to by state law. Doctors caring for patients at the hospitals are not restricted from prescribing birth control.
The Health and Human Services Department is asking for public comment on its proposed conscience clause before making a final decision, expected later this year.
Included in federal government’s decision to include birth control was “an amendment to the prevention regulation that allows religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services. This regulation is modeled on the most common accommodation for churches available in the majority of the 28 states that already require insurance companies to cover contraception.”
Despite this expressed exemption for religious groups, many are now upset that this exemption is “too limited.”
The Florida Catholic Conference recently told The Florida Independent that the exemption would not necessarily exempt “religious groups in Catholic Hospitals” and “Catholic Charities” from offering services they find religiously objectionable. He said the decision “violates the conscience” of religious groups providing health services.
However, other religious groups are opposed to these exemptions alltogether.
Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, said that these “expansive refusal clauses” are “used and developed to deny people services.”