White House Press Secretary on HHS contraception mandate:
The topic came up twice during today's White House press briefing -- first at minute 14:37 and again at minute 25:45 (transcript below):
Q Second topic -- the Catholic Church. It was a pretty extraordinary situation on Sunday in parishes all across the country, individual priests were reading letters from their bishops in that particular parish that were pretty much denouncing the Obama administration about these provisions dealing with contraception, Catholic hospitals and whatnot in connection with the Affordable Care Act. I guess my question would be, how does the administration justify having the federal government institute a law that basically forces people to violate their religious beliefs?MR. CARNEY: Well, that misrepresents actually what the --Q How so?
MR. CARNEY: -- decision about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act --Q How does that misrepresent --MR. CARNEY: Well, let me -- let me -- let me answer. The decision was made, as we have said in the past and Secretary Sebelius has said, after very careful consideration, and the administration believes that this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing access to important preventive services. We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.Its important -- to go to your point -- that this approach does not signal any change at all in the administrations policy on conscience protections. The President and this administration have previously expressed strong support for existing conscience protections, including those relating to health care providers. That support continues.I also would just note that our robust partnerships with the Catholic Church and other communities of faith will continue. The administration has provided over $2 billion to Catholic organizations over the past three years in addition to numerous nonfinancial partnerships that promote healthy communities and serve the common good.Q The bishops are saying just the opposite. Theyre saying that basically if somebody is working in a Catholic hospital and they dont cover contraception for their employees, that theyre in violation of federal law. So I dont understand how youre saying that there are still conscience protections. They would violate the law, wouldnt they?MR. CARNEY: Well, this does not direct an individual to do anything, first of all. The new guidelines require most private health plans to cover preventive services, including contraception, for women without charging a copay, coinsurance or deductible.The guidelines were recommended by the nonpartisan, independent Institute of Medicine. The administration also released a proposed regulation that allows nonprofit, religious employers that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services.After reviewing comments from the public, the administration announced that the final rule on preventive health services will ensure that women with health insurance coverage will have access to the full range of recommended preventive services, including all FDA-approved forms of contraception.And I would just note that we will work with religious groups during a transitional period to discuss their concerns. But this decision was made after careful consideration by Secretary Sebelius, and we believe that the proposal strikes the appropriate balance between religious beliefs on the one hand and the need to increase access to important preventive services for women.Q Last thing on this. E.J. Dionne, though -- I mean, a lot of Republicans have attacked -- but a Democrat whos Catholic, E.J. Dionne, wrote in The Washington Post yesterday that the President, in his words, utterly botched this policy. And he said he, threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus. So despite everything you just read, you have Democratic Catholics saying that thats not true.MR. CARNEY: The idea that there are people who disagree -- well, Ed, all youre pointing out is that there are people who disagree with the decision. We understand that not everyone agrees with it. All I can tell you is it was made after very careful consideration based on the need to balance those two issues and that the necessity to provide access to preventive services for women was an important consideration.Q What about the constitutional right to freedom of religion? Is that still --MR. CARNEY: I dont believe there are any constitutional rights issues here, but I would refer you to others to discuss that. Thats not -- I understand that theres controversy and we understand that and we will continue to work with religious groups to discuss their concerns. But on the other side of this was the important need to provide access to women to the preventive services that they require.And the thing you just read to me was a political observation. This was a policy based on the merits.Q Jay, if I could follow up on that --MR. CARNEY: No, let me -- let me move around here.Q The bishop of Phoenix said Catholics shouldnt comply with this law. Will there be any consequences for not --MR. CARNEY: Im the wrong guy to ask.[...]Q Let me go back to the health insurance regulation for a second. You made the point that it was Secretary Sebeliuss decision. But isnt it the Presidents decision? And isnt he the one responsible --MR. CARNEY: Well, sure --Q -- ultimately?MR. CARNEY: Its an HHS -- as I understand it, an HHS process, but we -- the President concurs in the decision and in the need to find an appropriate balance between religious beliefs and access to preventive services for women.Q But its been pointed out by a number of people that it would have been easy to find a compromise that didnt require Catholic hospitals to go against the beliefs of their faith in order to serve everybody.MR. CARNEY: Well, Im not sure that -- its easy to say that things are easy when youre saying it from the outside. The balance here that was sought was found, an appropriate balance between religious beliefs and the need for access to preventive services.Q It was quite clear that a lot of people dont feel that theres any balance here, that it is, in fact, an infringement of their ability to practice their faith.MR. CARNEY: Well, again, Bill, I can keep telling you our view. I certainly appreciate that there are folks out there who disagree, but this was done with a full awareness of the concerns that have been expressed on both sides of this issue, and a decision that was made on the policy merits that also weighed the very issues that I described.I think its fair to say that while there are those who take issue with the decision, millions and millions of Americans -- American women will have access to preventive services, as they should, appropriately, though the health care reform bill.
CHA and its members were profoundly disappointed to learn that the definition of a religious employer was not going to be broadened in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' rules for preventive services for women.
The impact of being told we do not fit the new definition of a religious employer and therefore cannot operate our ministries following our consciences has jolted us. The contributions of Catholic health care, education and social services to this country's development are legion. They have responded to the needs of all, not just Catholics. They have been delivered by many who do not share our faith, but share our commitment.From President Thomas Jefferson to President Barack Obama, we have been promised a respect for appropriate religious freedom. The first amendment to our Constitution affirms it. We are a pluralistic country, and it takes respectful dialogue to sort this out fairly. This decision was a missed opportunity.CHA has expressed concern and disappointment about this on behalf of the ministry. We have said the problem is not resolved, and we must have a national conversation on this. CHA is working closely with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and others to look at options to resolve this. We will be discussing it at the CHA board meeting on Feb. 8.I assure you that we will use the time to pursue a correction during the one-year extension. We will give this issue priority and consult with members and experts as we evaluate options to deal with this. Any suggestions, comments or questions are welcome. I promise to keep the membership informed as we move along in this effort. Please keep this important effort in your prayers as well.