After a “closed, two-day meeting,” Catholic Bishops made their top priority defeating birth control coverage in the preventive care package of the Affordable Care Act. The Bishops released a statement yesterday saying that they wanted to protect “religious freedom” and that “this dispute is not about access to contraceptives but about the governments forcing the church to provide them.” The Obama Administration, in an accommodation, however, made clear that if a religiously-affiliated institute objects, the insurance company will provide the coverage directly to the employee or student without institutional involvement. The regulation requiring birth control coverage without co-pays or deductibles as a part of the preventive care package goes into effect August 2012.

Nevertheless, a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute indicated that 56 percent of people surveyed, including six in 10 Catholics, indicated that they do not believe that their religious liberty has been threatened. The study also found that “55% of Americans, including 58% of Catholics, agree that ‘employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost.’”

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops also announced plans to launch a broader campaign against state and local laws that they believe infringe on religious freedom, including restrictions limiting the rights of religious groups to use public schools as place of worship and those that limit religious organizations on college campuses.

In August 2011, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new guidelines, developed by the Institute of Medicine, that will require private insurance plans under the Preventive Care package of the Affordable Care Act beginning on or after August 1, 2012 to cover without co-pays or deductibles a variety of services, such as an annual well-woman visit and cancer screenings, counseling, such as for domestic and interpersonal violence, and testing for HIV and STIs, as well as all FDA-approved contraceptives, breastfeeding support, lactation services, and supplies.

USA Today 3/15/12; Washington Post 3/14/12; Statement of US Conference of Catholic Bishops 3/14/12; Feminist Daily Newswire 1/20/12, 1/31/12

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