The Catholic bishops' latest pronunciamento on the Obama Administration's contraception coverage mandate--a March 29 memo reported first by CNS and followed up by RNS' David Gibson--does a bit of an NBC to advance their anti-contraception agenda. Here's the story.
It all began last fall with USCCB president Timothy Dolan under the impression that the administration would expand its definition of religious organizations sufficiently to permit Catholic hospitals, social welfare agencies, and educational institutions to be exempt from the mandate. But after an internal debate in the White House, the president decided not to back off, and the announced policy remained in place albeit with the hospitals etc. given a year to prepare for it.
Whereupon: 1) the bishops went nuts and said they now wanted exemptions for any employer (e.g. a Taco Bell proprietor) with personal religious scruples about providing contraception coverage; 2) the president announced an accommodatation for the hospitals etc., such that their insurers would pick up the contraception tab; 3) the bishops declared themselves unsatisfied, pointing in particular to the issue of hospitals etc. that self-insure and thus would have to pick up the tab themselves; and 4) the administration announced a further accommodation, whereby the self-insured would have their tabs picked up by an entity to be determined later.
Now, in their March 29 memo, the bishops not only reject this latest accommodation as still requiring too much "cooperation with evil" from faith-based insurers, they go beyond demanding that any employer with religious scruples be given an exemption from the mandate and insist that the administration ensure that all recipients of health insurance from the exempt hospitals etc. be able to opt out of their (free) contraceptive coverage. Here's the bishops' argument:
The advance notice also contradicts a commitment the Administration made in its February 10 rule, which proposed to have insurers “offer contraceptive coverage directly to the employer’s plan participants (and their beneficiaries) who desire it” (Fed. Register, February 15, p. 8728). Now, the Administration says third parties can be required to “provide this coverage automatically to participants and beneficiaries covered under the organization’s plan (for example, without an application or enrollment process), and protect the privacy of participants and beneficiaries covered under the plan who use contraceptive services” (March 21, p. 16505). While some have said the Administration wants to vindicate individual women’s choice over the religious values of their employers, it now seems women will have no freedom of choice either—not even the freedom to keep their own minor children from being offered “free” and “private” contraceptive services and related “education and counseling” without their consent. The mandate now poses a threat to the rights not only of religious employers but of parents as well. It is even proposed that this intervention into the family may be delegated to “nonprofit” organizations, potentially including groups such as Planned Parenthood, who volunteer for the task.
So, in the bishops' view, a woman is denied freedom of choice because she is prevented from refusing (free) coverage for services she is morally opposed to and therefore won't avail herself of. And her "minor [female] children" (also, presumably, her adult daughters up to the age of 26 who are covered under the health care law) might sneak off and get a free IUD. That's, of course, if the bishops have accurately conveyed the administration's latest policy. But they haven't exactly done that. Here's the beginning of the paragraph that the memo quotes only in part (from "provide" to "services"):
The accommodation aims to simultaneously fulfill the requirement that plan participants and beneficiaries be offered contraceptive coverage without cost sharing and without charge, and protect a non-profit religious organization that objects on religious grounds from having to provide contraceptive coverage. To achieve these goals, an independent entity is needed to assume certain functions. This entity would, separate from the religious organization and as directed by regulations and guidance, notify plan participants and beneficiaries of the availability of separate contraceptive coverage, provide this coverage automatically to participants and beneficiaries covered under the organization’s plan (for example, without an application or enrollment process), and protect the privacy of participants and beneficiaries covered under the plan who use contraceptive services.
The full text has the administration offering insurance recipients contraception coverage, as in the original formulation; indeed, they are to be informed of its availability as a separate option. The point of making the coverage automatic is that it protects the scruples of the exempt organization--"for example," by not requiring it to enroll recipients in the contraception coverage option. In a word, what the bishops' memo does by partial quotation is turn a provision designed to insulate faith-based organizations from religiously objectionable actions into an offense against the religious scruples of insurance recipients. Way to go, boys!
It seems, in fact, that the bishops have now adopted the position that anyone entitled to free government-mandated contraceptive coverage must be free to turn it town. Next step: support for legislation prohibiting the government from mandating the coverage itself.