Guest / Limited Access /

The Obama administration announced today a small shift in an earlier position on who covers contraception, but observers are still voicing concerns over how his administration exempts religious groups.

Religious organizations will not have to provide or directly subsidize the cost of contraception or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception, the administration announced. "Religious liberty will be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women," Obama said in a press conference. Rather, employers' insurance companies must offer contraception coverage to women directly, free of charge.

Pro-life groups released statements suggesting the shift was not enough. "The so-called one year delay last month was a clear slap in the face of religious groups, and this new proposal still requires religious entities that are not exempt as a church to subsidize and pay insurance companies so they can give free birth control to their employees," said Tony Perkins, Family Research Council president. "However, it won't be free, because the insurance companies will increase the premium and administrative costs to the employer."

A White House official told the Washington Post that under the policy, insurers will not be able to set premiums higher than it would have been without birth control.

Religious groups' initial concerns centered on two issues. In its August announcement, the administration required that religious employers that are not churches would have to cover certain contraceptives such as Plan B (or "the morning-after pill"). Groups also voiced concerns about the narrow religious exemption of churches, which was not changed under Obama's decision today.

Observers are still determining how the White House's announcement will impact various religious groups. For instance, it appears that for-profit religious companies will need to provide contraception. Remaining questions include whether faith-based insurance companies will be exempted from the mandate.

GuideStone, a Southern Baptist medical plan provider that covers about 200,000 people, pays benefits directly and does not use a third-party insurance company. "The President's statement today is an insulting affront illustrating a basic lack of understanding that this issue will not be solved by sleight of hand word game," said GuideStone's president O.S. Hawkins.

Also unclear is how the policy will impact religious organizations that are self-insured. White House officials said today in a call with religious leaders that the updated rule will apply to self-funded plans of religious nonprofits, but the details of how the rule will apply those plans will be worked out in the transition period.

"What are the actual contours? People are still trying to figure it out," said Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance. "Nobody that I've talked to says this is wonderful, a slam dunk, let's go home and have Thanksgiving early."

Religious leaders saw the ruling as a restriction on religious groups that could also set a poor precedent for future restrictions.

"I'm not sure if they've nailed it," said Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). "The definition of religious employers is very relevant to a number of issues, not just this specific case."

Several evangelicals, such as Albert Mohler, Jim Daly, and Chuck Colson suggested that the mandate was not just an issue for Catholics but a question of religious freedom.

Support our work. Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueLife After Prison—When the Church Shows Up
Subscriber Access Only Life After Prison—When the Church Shows Up
One of the hardest days of incarceration may be the day it ends. The church can be there to make a difference.
RecommendedEgypt's First 'Official' Christian Convert Quits, Returns to Islam
Egypt's First 'Official' Christian Convert Quits, Returns to Islam
After years of harassment and imprisonment, Mohamed Hegazy abandons his unprecedented legal quest.
TrendingWhy Most Pastors Aren’t Answering Your Phone Calls
Why Most Pastors Aren’t Answering Your Phone Calls
It's one the great mysteries of ministry. Why do pastors have such a bad reputation for answering or returning phone calls? Here are 9 reasons.
Editor's PickThe Good (and Bad) News About Christian Higher Education
The Good (and Bad) News About Christian Higher Education
‘Christian colleges are as strong as they’ve been since the 1920s,’ says historian William Ringenberg. But there are challenges on the horizon.
View this article in Reader Mode
Christianity Today
Obama Does Not Widen Religious Exemption for Contraceptive ...