WASHINGTON (BP) -- President Obama Friday announced a change in the way that employees of religious organizations will receive free contraceptives that can cause abortions, but it fell far short of what is needed to protect religious liberty, say evangelical and Catholic leaders.
President Barack Obama, with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius behind him, announces his change to what has been called the contraceptive mandate. Religious leaders, though, said it fell short of what is needed and that it still violates religious liberty.
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
The controversy began when the Department of Health and Human Services in January finalized a rule requiring private insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives, including "emergency" ones such as Plan B and "ella" that can block implantation and kill the embryo -- an action that pro-life groups and many Christians view as an early abortion. The drugs would be free for employees.
The HHS rule included an exemption for most churches, but that exemption does not cover Christian colleges and schools or faith-based hospitals and social service programs. Programs such as Catholic Charities, Prison Fellowship and the Southern Baptist Convention's GuideStone Financial Resources would be affected. GuideStone's president released a statement before Obama's press conference saying simply, "we will not provide abortive contraceptives."
Obama said Friday that the burden on providing emergency contraceptives would fall on insurance companies, and that the coverage still would be free.
"If a woman's employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company -- not the hospital, not the charity -- will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge without co-pays and without hassles," Obama said. "The result will be that religious organizations won't have to pay for these services and no religious institution will have to provide these services."
Religious leaders, though, were not pleased, and said the same problems with religious liberty remained.
"It is an attempt to deal with a matter of religious conviction with an accounting gimmick," Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press.
Land and others said that an insurance company's money is fungible, and that a religious employer would still be providing the funding to pay for an employees' abortion-inducing drugs.
O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Recourses, called it an "approach that does not address the issues at hand for Southern Baptists who oppose so-called contraceptives that can and do cause an abortion." GuideStone provides health insurance coverage to 60,000 people, including pastors and missionaries.
"The President's statement today," said Hawkins, "is an insulting affront illustrating a basic lack of understanding that this issue will not be solved by sleight-of-hand word games. It is a fundamental matter of religious liberty that threatens the very coverage of those dedicated persons who serve our churches and affiliated organizations. GuideStone will never depart from the core convictions it has held dear for decades regarding the sanctity of life."
Obama's statement does "not take into account the needs of many of the oldest and largest church plans in the nation," GuideStone said.
(GuideStone's full statement follows this story.)
Said Land, "Obama showed a total lack of awareness of self-funded insurance programs like GuideStone. ... GuideStone cannot comply with this, because GuideStone would be forced to pay for abortifacients, which we find unconscionable."
"This administration," Land added, "has shown a very disturbing trend of when religious freedoms collide with sexual rights, sexual rights trump religious convictions every time. ... Read More