Originally posted in the Daily News
By: Frances Kissling, Senior Advisor to Women Deliver
One of those thorny, negotiate-for-two-generations-and-still-kill-each-other battles has been going on for months in Washington over the definition of a religious institution and whether such groups will need to comply with administration policy requiring employers to offer contraceptive coverage to their employees.
With President Obama’s Friday afternoon announcement, it just got settled once and for all. But one party may still not be happy: the Catholic bishops.
The settlement is straightforward. The President maintained that “no woman’s health should depend on where she works.” Clearly, the broad definition of women’s health must include contraception. Churches themselves were already exempt from the rule; now, larger religious employers — like Catholic social service organizations, universities and hospitals — will have an arm’s length distance from this benefit.
But women will not be denied the service; the insurance companies will cover it, at no extra cost, by dealing directly with the employee.
The Catholic Health Association and Planned Parenthood, the big dogs in the hunt, are both happy. So am I. People of faith have bigger concerns, and the sooner we can focus our attention on jobs, peace, poverty and homelessness, the better off we will be.
Some ask if it might not have been possible for the President to broker this deal sooner. Maybe, but my intuition says no. It appears Catholic hospitals and universities were — in fact, some still are — prepared to accept no less than a full exemption from providing any coverage for contraception at all. That ought to be unacceptable to anyone who cares about equitable treatment for women’s health.
Politics is the art of the possible, and as the President noted, it takes time. There were “complicated issues to sort out” among “people of good faith.”
The need to prevent unintended pregnancy, reduce the need for abortion and to help ensure that women have children they can afford to care for is a public health imperative. Bad things happen when women can’t control their fertility. Too many people, especially children, are hungry and cold in our society.
Even Catholic hospital leaders and universities, some of which already provide contraceptive insurance, did not challenge the factual, practical argument in favor of contraception.
The rational part of the Catholic community — for example, hospital leaders who care more about the poor than fanning the flames of religious discord — got the freedom they wanted to distance themselves from a service they may or may not actually disapprove of.
The only losers right now are the Catholic bishops, who have become increasingly marginalized within society and even within the church. When the White House cares more about what a simple Catholic sister — Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association — thinks than about what the bishops think, Catholic women can applaud. Perhaps the crack in the patriarchy is becoming a deep canyon.
Kissling is a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania and the former president of Catholics for Choice.