No one can blame President Obama for lack of effort. A year and a half ago, the White House determined that under the Affordable Care Act contraception would be covered by insurance plans as preventive care without a co-pay. And ever since, the president has tried to shape compromises that satisfy the concerns from religious opponents of birth control.
The nation's Roman Catholic bishops on Thursday rejected the latest White House proposal on health insurance coverage of contraceptives, saying it did not offer enough safeguards for religious hospitals, colleges and charities that objected to providing such coverage for their employees.
The bishops said they would continue fighting the federal mandate in court.
I'm not sure what more the White House can do to make the policy more tolerable for contraception opponents.
Let's recap how the latest administration compromise would work. Let's say you're a woman who works at a religiously affiliated university and you want to take birth control pills, which school administrators have decided are too sinful to pay for. Your employer will offer you a health care plan that doesn't cover the medication, but the university's insurance company will then automatically create a new, separate insurance policy that will cover your contraception for free.
You still get the pills, the preventive care is still available with no co-pay, and your employer no longer worries about subsidizing -- or even being tangentially involved with -- your health care choices that it might choose to find spiritually offensive.
It's not enough, the bishops said.
The bishops said the proposal seemed to address part of their concern about the definition of religious employers who could be exempted from the requirement to offer contraceptive coverage at no charge to employees. But they said it did not go far enough and failed to answer many questions, like who would pay for birth control coverage provided to employees of certain nonprofit religious organizations.
"The administration's proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries," said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education and Catholic charities. The Department of Health and Human Services offers what it calls an 'accommodation,' rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches."
Of course, in the United States, it doesn't necessarily matter what the leaders of one faith tradition think about the law as it relates to birth control -- the bishops don't get veto power. They can lobby, pressure, and speak out, and they can even refuse to cover all of the health care needs of their employees, but they can't simply reject the law.
The bishops can, however, sue. And as of yesterday, the legal challenges against contraception coverage will continue.