The liberal association Catholics for Choice reacted negatively Friday to President Barack Obama’s compromise aimed at defusing a row over access to birth control by employees of religious organizations.
“We are glad to see that the administration did not choose to cave completely to the bishops,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice.
He said the compromise relied on insurance companies doing the right thing, and gave a victory to the bishops.
“One wonders what has been gained by this ‘accommodation?’ O’Brien asked. “It certainly isn’t the support of Catholics.”
He noted that it had been widely reported that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women used a method of contraception banned by the church.
O’Brien expressed concern that Catholic bishops will now become emboldened and will put forward other demands such as special treatment in federal contracts or allowing them to opt out of providing reproductive healthcare services.
Earlier Friday, Obama said his government would no longer require religious organizations to offer free contraception on employee health plans and decried opponents he said had turned the issue into a “political football.”
But he stuck by the principle that all women should have free access to such services, putting the onus on insurance firms to approach women working for religious employers like Catholic hospitals to offer them birth control.
The fight erupted when the administration decided not to exempt religious employers from a requirement under its health reform law that work-based insurance plans offer women coverage for contraception.
Officials argued that a woman who worked, for example, as a nurse at a Catholic hospital might not share their employer’s religious opposition to contraception and should have the same rights as female workers elsewhere.
Catholic leaders were outraged — though houses of worship were exempt — and Republicans used the row to whip up a social issues storm, firing up their conservative political base in an election year.
However, many other organizations welcomed the compromise.
The Catholic Health Association said it was “very pleased” with the White House announcement, arguing that the decision “protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions.”
The American Association of University Women insisted that the decision was “not a compromise on women’s health.”
“Instead, it’s an accommodation for people who are truly concerned about religious liberty,” the association said.
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