Like many religious leaders, I fully support President Obama's recent decision to expand contraception coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act. That decision, however, has drawn fierce criticism from Roman Catholic leaders. Is there room for a compromise. I think so.
Melissa Rogers of Wake Forest Divinity School wrote this past fall that Hawaii might be a model for a federal law:
In terms of its definition of a “religious employer,” the state of Hawaii’s contraceptive coverage law has some of the same defects as the interim federal rule. But it appears to have taken some noteworthy steps to ensure that employees of objecting religious organizations may readily gain access to affordable coverage of contraceptives. Under Hawaii law, religious employers that decline to cover contraceptives must provide written notification to enrollees disclosing that fact and describing alternate ways for enrollees to access coverage for contraceptive services. Hawaii law also requires health insurers to allow enrollees in a health plan of an objecting religious employer to purchase coverage of contraceptive services directly and to do so at a cost that does not exceed “the enrollee’s pro rata share of the price the group purchaser would have paid for such coverage had the group plan not invoked a religious exemption.” A New York law has similar provisions.
Vice-President Biden, a Roman Catholic, said today that he wants a compromise to be worked out.
Some of the criticism of the new rules has been unfortunate and the rhetoric from New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and others has been heated. It is unclear if Dolan wants a compromise or a fight. What the American people want, however, is clear: access to contraceptives as part of health care (and this includes a solid majority of Roman Catholics).
I'd urge the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to stop their nuclear attack on the White House and to work with the President to find a win-win solution. Anything less than serious good faith negotiations from the Bishops will force a question about motives.
Why is it, for example, President Obama is coming under fire this election year from Dolan when Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, both Roman Catholics, have taken positions in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church on war, immigration, climate change, economics, and aid for those in poverty without as much as a word from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?