WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish groups on both sides of a contraceptives controversy praised President Obama’s compromise allowing religious institutions to direct staff to alternative health care plans funding such services.
"Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services -– no matter where they work," Obama said Friday in a special White House news conference held in the wake of a controversy over his administration’s earlier rule ordering all employers except houses of worship to provide the coverage.
"So that core principle remains," he continued. "But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company — not the hospital, not the charity — will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles."
Hadassah, the Reform movement, the Orthodox Union, the National Council of Jewish Women and Jewish Women International each welcomed the compromise. The OU had opposed the original rule, and the Reform movement had said it was problematic, while the three women’s groups had supported it.
"We commend the Obama administration for ensuring both access to contraception for all women and the robust protection of religious autonomy," said Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs Reform’s Religious Action Center.
Hadassah in a statement welcomed Obama’s "reaffirmation" of his earlier commitment to access to contraceptives for all women and added: "We will, however, watch closely to ensure that the new proposal does not create undue barriers to women’s access to contraceptives."
Jewish Women International praised the compromise and said it would work to make sure it "does not place any additional burdens on women and their fundamental right to contraceptive coverage."
NCJW said it was "optimistic" that the new plan "protects the health needs and individual religious liberty of all women."
The OU said it read the new rule as meaning that "no nonprofit, religious institutional employer that objects to providing contraceptives and sterilization services will have to pay for or provide coverage for it" and that "no objecting religious employer will be required to make referrals for services to which they object."
"We commend the President and his advisers for responding to the deep concerns regarding America’s first freedom of religious liberty expressed by our organization and so many others," the OU said in a statement. "The President’s stated commitment is a positive first step forward, the details of implementation are crucial and we look forward to working with the Administration to see that through."
Conservative commentators on cable talks shows Friday said that the compromise was still problematic. Some institutions manage their own health care plans, they said, making it difficult for them to bring third parties in to cover contraceptives. Moreover, they said, it is unclear how the rule will keep religious institutions from funding what they see as an immoral practice, even if they do not directly provide the coverage.