WASHINGTON - Rising up against US President Barack Obama's birth control plans, Catholic Church leaders have vowed a fight against the controversial schemes for free contraceptives.
Obama's proposal "continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions," the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement cited by Reuters on Sunday, February 12.
"We will therefore continue - with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency - our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government," the bishops said, calling on Congress to take action to overturn the rule.
Obama has proposed that health insurance covers basic birth control services for women, even at Catholic charities, hospitals and universities.
But the plans have sparked a firestorm from Republicans and Catholic leaders, who see the scheme a violation of religious freedom.
Seeking to end the controversy, Obama announced a compromise that would accommodate religious organizations, such as Catholic hospitals and universities.
Under the compromise, religious employers could opt out of providing coverage, but their workers could then ask their insurance company for that benefit, and the company would be required to provide it free of charge.
The compromise was seen as an effort by Obama to prevent the controversy from becoming a liability for him with Catholic voters, while at the same time trying not to anger his liberal base.
"Birth control is basic healthcare and women should have access to birth control, no matter where they work," said Tait Sye, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood.
"It should not be left up to a boss's personal beliefs whether his employees should be allowed birth control coverage," he said.
The White House said Sunday that it will not make any more changes to the health insurance plans.
We put out the plan that reflects where the president intended to go. This is our plan," White House chief of staff Jacob Lew said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
The Catholic bishops, who met on Friday, said that Obama's compromise did not address their concerns, citing serious moral concerns."
They said the changes failed to provide "clear protection" for many employers who might oppose birth control personally but not be classified as a religious institution, and thus ineligible to seek exemption from the federal mandate to provide free contraception as part of every insurance package, according to Reuters.
The bishops said the compromise meant the employer would still in effect be subsidizing the benefit, because the insurance company would likely pay for it out of the pool of revenues it earned from its contract with the employer.
"This, too, raises serious moral concerns."
Meanwhile, three religious groups will continue to pursue their legal challenges to the government's regulation, despite Obama's announcement, said Hannah Smith, a lawyer at the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the plaintiffs.
The lawsuits, filed by two religious colleges and a Catholic television network, said the government violated their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion. Two were filed last year and the third was filed last week.
Michael O'Dea, the founder and executive director of Christus Medicus Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group for religious healthcare providers, said many Catholic institutions have created their own self-insurance plans to get around state regulations requiring independent insurers to provide birth control if they cover other prescription drugs.
The compromise, he said, would require those insurance plans to cover the contraception - even if the insurers are arms of the Catholic Church.
"This compromise means nothing. It is nothing more than a shell game," O'Dea said.
Polls indicate a majority of Americans and Catholics support requiring contraception coverage.
On Saturday a group supporting expanded access to birth control released a survey showing that 57 percent of Catholic women favor the compromise set forth by Obama.
It found that 56 percent of independent Catholic voters favored the revised contraceptive coverage rule.
Among Hispanic Catholics, who could be pivotal in swing states such as New Mexico and Nevada, the poll found 59 percent supported the policy.The survey, commissioned by the Coalition to Protect Women's Health Care and conducted on Friday night by Public Policy Polling, queried 466 Catholic voters.