Following a wave of protests from the Catholic Church and the conservative right, President Barack Obama has announced a compromise in the dispute over whether religious institutions, such as schools and hospitals, should include contraception in the health insurance they provide for female employees.
The Catholic church argues that such provision would be morally wrong. In this election year, conservatives also say the proposals are an offense against religious freedom.
Speaking at the White House on Friday, Obama criticised a “cynical desire on the part of some to make this into a political football”.
“No woman’s health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes,” Obama said. But, he added: "We’ve been mindful that there’s another principle at stake here and that’s the principle of religious liberty, an inalienable right that is enshrined in our Constitution. As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right."
The White House have now proposes a compromise that will allow religious organisations to opt out of providing coverage that would include birth control for women. But insurers will be required to offer complete coverage free of charge to any women who work at such institutions.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said: “Today’s decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction. We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”
Catholic Health Association said: "The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions. The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed. We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State said: "In a nation that separates religion and government, it is wrong to let the Catholic hierarchy and the Religious Right write laws that impose their theology. American women, including the 98 percent of Catholic women who have used birth control, have every right to be outraged by the disproportionate political influence of the handful of men who run the Catholic Church and the Religious Right."
NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby said: "The insurance-based solution honours both the conscience of the employer and the desires of individual employees. We are so grateful that through thoughtful consideration of the competing needs of people of different faith perspectives the administration has found a way to honor faith-based conscience objections."