U.S. Catholic Church leaders said they will fight President Barack Obama’s controversial birth-control insurance coverage policy despite his compromise that religious employers would not have to offer free contraceptives for workers, shifting the responsibility to insurers.
According to Reuters, in a statement issued Friday evening, the bishops said Obama’s proposal “continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions.”
“We will therefore continue – with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency – our efforts to correct this problem through the other two branches of government,” the bishops said in urging Congress to take action to overturn the rule.
The regulation at the center of the controversy requires religious-affiliated groups such as charities, hospitals and universities, but not churches themselves, to provide employees with coverage for birth control as other health insurance providers must do, MSNBC reports.
Catholic Church leaders and Obama’s Republican opponents previously led the fight against the rule requiring coverage for contraceptives as a violation of religious freedom, making it a potential big issue in the 2012 presidential race.
The rule, initially announced on January 20, sparked an outcry not only from Catholic leaders but also from social conservatives, including Republican presidential hopefuls. It even drew opposition from several Democratic lawmakers.
The candidates themselves, campaigning for votes in the Conservative Political Action Conference’s straw poll Saturday, competed to present themselves as most opposed to Obama’s health care law.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the straw poll Saturday, followed by former Sen. Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who did not attend the annual conference of conservative activists, reports The Huff Post.
Romney, a Mormon who in the past supported abortion rights, vowed to reverse “every single Obama regulation that attacks our religious liberty and threatens innocent life.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, who swept three nomination contests earlier in the week, said that with the health care law, Obama “is telling the Catholic Church that they are forced to pay for things that are against their basic tenants and teachings.”
“It’s not about contraception,” said Santorum, a Catholic. “It’s about economic liberty.”
Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee, closed the three-day CPAC gathering Saturday with a conservative call to arms full of derision for Obama.
“I believe the competition has got to keep going,” Palin said to loud applause. “Competition strengthens us,” she said. “Competition will lead us to victory in 2012.”
Palin decried “the Washington of the permanent class,” where she said people arrive with good intentions and stay to enrich themselves and their cronies. “It’s time to drain the Jacuzzi,” she said.
Obama’s compromise was aimed at preventing the controversy from becoming a liability for him with Catholic voters, while at the same time trying not to anger his liberal base.
“Birth control is basic healthcare and women should have access to birth control, no matter where they work,” said Tait Sye, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood.
“It should not be left up to a boss’s personal beliefs whether his employees should be allowed birth control coverage,” he said.
A Fox News poll released Friday showed a large majority, 61 percent, of Americans approve of requiring employer health plans to cover birth control for women. Thirty-four percent disapproved.
The nationwide survey was conducted by telephone among 1,110 registered voters Feb. 6-9 and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points, the network said.