February 13th, 2012

President Obama, Contraception & the First Amendment

“Under intense pressure from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, President Obama today said that the White House would not back down from its guarantee that insurance companies must cover contraception without co-pays.  Instead, the President announced that it would adjust the policy so that women who work for religiously-affiliated employers like Catholic hospitals can receive contraceptive coverage at no additional cost directly from their insurance companies, rather than from their employers.

Women asked the President to stand with us, and he did.  This policy protects women’s access to critical preventive health services without adding new charges.

While the policy already included an exemption for churches and houses of worship, Catholic hospitals and other religiously affiliated employers have lobbied for more.  The Bishops have made clear that they will oppose any policy that gives women insurance coverage for contraception, but Sister Carol Keehan, President of the Catholic Health Association, has been quoted in news reports saying that she supports the policy described today by the President.  Keehan is also a supporter of the overarching health reform law, the Affordable Care Act, and her support was critical to Congressional passage of the law in 2010, despite the bishops’ objections.” (Thank you,  Raising Women’s Voices)

The Right-Wing Opposition Has Already Launched an Attack
Already the anti-contraception fanatics are hard at work trying to overturn the entire contraceptive coverage policy. Anti-choice extremist Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) is tying all contraceptive coverage to a transportation bill, which the Senate could vote on at any time. Blunt’s approach is to say the very least, blunt…and extreme.

Blunt wants Congress to totally eliminate President Obama’s guarantee of access to affordable birth control. Instead, Blunt wants any employer or any health plan to be able to refuse coverage of birth control.
Call your Senators and tell them to oppose the Blunt Amendment!

An Interesting Piece of Information from The New York Times
Catholic Institutions Reluctantly Comply With N.Y. Law on Contraceptives Coverage

By Joseph Berger Published: February 10, 2012

Although Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York has been leading the national fight against requiring Roman Catholic hospitals, universities and charities to cover birth control in their health insurance plans for employees and students, some Catholic institutions in his own diocese and others throughout New York State have for 10 years been complying with state law mandating precisely that coverage.

The state began requiring contraception coverage in 2002, and Catholic institutions, after losing a court battle over the issue, have followed the law. Historically Catholic institutions like Fordham University, which is run by a lay board of trustees in the tradition of the Jesuit religious order, provide contraception coverage for employees and students.

Fordham, which has 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students, seeks to comply with Catholic teaching by barring its student health center from prescribing or dispensing birth control pills unless they are used for such conditions as severe acne or endometriosis, according to Bob Howe, Fordham’s director of communications. Students who seek birth control pills to prevent pregnancies must obtain prescriptions from a private doctor or a service like Planned Parenthood, and the college’s insurance carrier will then cover the pills under its standard reimbursement schedule.

“We currently follow New York State law,” Mr. Howe said. “For employees and students, we provide insurance coverage that includes contraception. That’s the law.”

New York is one of the 28 states that require insurance companies to cover contraception. According to the White House, Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemptions from that requirement, while California, New York and North Carolina have limited religious exemptions, identical to the limited exemptions the Obama Administration proposed to put in place nationally.

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, referred questions about the archdiocese’s practices to Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, who did not immediately return a call. But Mr. Poust was quoted in The Buffalo News as saying of the state’s requirement: “In many cases, there was no other choice but to comply under protest. None of it is voluntary. It is all under duress.”

There are no longer any Catholic hospitals in New York City; St. Vincent’s in Greenwich Village closed in 2010, and Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica, Queens, closed in 2009. A spokesman for Catholic Health Services of Long Island, which administers six hospitals, including St. Francis in Roslyn and Good Samaritan in West Islip,  said, “It is the policy of Catholic Health Services not to comment on political issues.”

Representatives of several other Catholic institutions in the region seemed leery about discussing how their insurance plans operated.

“The college’s institutional policies and practices are consistent with Catholic teaching,” said  Lenore Carpinelli, director of college relations for the College of New Rochelle, which was founded in Westchester County in 1904 by the Ursuline Sisters as the first college in the state for Catholic women. “We will be reviewing and evaluating the new regulations respectful of our commitment to our Ursuline Catholic mission and identity.”