The U.S. bishops are hesitant to predict the effects of an ambiguous new policy announced by the Obama administration on its controversial contraception mandate.
“While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of U.S. bishops’ conference.
He noted the “remarkable unity” with which Americans have united in recent weeks to fight “the erosion of religious freedom and governmental intrusion into issues of faith and morals” and called for continued efforts to ensure that religious liberty is protected.
On Feb. 10, President Barack Obama announced a new policy that requires many religious employers to contract with health insurance companies that provide contraception free of charge.
Under the new policy, religious employers will not have to directly purchase contraceptives, but will be required to pay for health care plans from insurance companies that offer them without cost.
The policy was announced in response to the massive outcry against the Obama administration’s earlier mandate, which would require virtually all employers to purchase health insurance plans that include contraception – including early abortion drugs – and sterilization at no cost to their employees.
In recent weeks, the administration has faced widespread protest for refusing to expand the mandate’s narrow religious exemption, which applies only to organizations that exist for the purpose of inculcating religious values and that restrict their employment and services to primarily members of their own faith.
A vast number of Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations would be excluded from the exemption because they offer their services to people of all faiths.
Well over 150 bishops from across the country have spoken out against the mandate, along with people from across a wide spectrum of political and religious beliefs who have voiced concerns that the government is infringing upon the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Obama said that his new policy “accommodates religious liberty” because it does not require religious employers to directly pay for products that they believe to be immoral.
However, a statement on the bishops' conference website alongside the cardinal-designate's remarks indicated that it is not yet clear whether the new policy addresses the central concerns of religious freedom. It suggested that legislation is still necessary in order to secure religious liberty for all.
While Cardinal-designate Dolan believes that the new policy may be the “first step in the right direction,” he continued to express concerns.
“We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations,” he said.