Yesterday President Obama announced a landmark decision on preventive care which safeguards religious freedom while also maintaining increased access to contraception for all women. Lauded by Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, as well as Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, the ruling ensures that all women receive free contraception as part of their health insurance plans and that employers who conscientiously disagree with contraception will not be forced to pay for it.
“The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed,” Sister Keehan said.
“We believe the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman’s ability to access these critical birth control benefits,” said Richards.
“Nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on contraception at some point in their lives –- 99 percent. And yet, more than half of all women between the ages of 18 and 34 have struggled to afford it. So for all these reasons, we decided to follow the judgment of the nation’s leading medical experts and make sure that free preventive care includes access to free contraceptive care,” President Obama said yesterday. “Now, as we move to implement this rule, however, we’ve been mindful that there’s another principle at stake here –- and that’s the principle of religious liberty, an inalienable right that is enshrined in our Constitution. As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right.”
When the Department of Health and Human Services announced the rule requiring employers, with the exception of places of worship, to provide contraception as part of their healthcare plans, the President made sure that religious-affiliated organizations were given an extra year to implement this so that he could work out a solution for those who object to contraception because of their religious beliefs. With the announcement of yesterday’s decision, he made good on his promise by protecting religious freedom while also making sure that all women have access to important preventive care.
This policy is especially important to President Obama because, as a person of faith, he understands the value of the work faith-affiliated organizations do and the major contributions they make to their communities. “My first job in Chicago was working with Catholic parishes in poor neighborhoods, and my salary was funded by a grant from an arm of the Catholic Church,” the President said. “And I saw that local churches often did more good for a community than a government program ever could, so I know how important the work that faith-based organizations do and how much impact they can have in their communities. “ From personal experience, he deeply understands and believes the notion that we are greater together, and he sees the critical role religious organizations play in this. Through his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the President has made a concerted effort to empower religious organizations to fight poverty, improve education and access to healthcare, and promote fatherhood and mentoring.
Echoing the sentiments that the President expressed at the National Prayer Breakfast, yesterday’s ruling demonstrates President Obama’s continued commitment to the core American values of religious liberty and women’s health. It also reaffirms his enduring dedication to the work of religious organizations and faithful Americans. We are thrilled for the families who will benefit from this provision of the President’s healthcare legislation and we areexcited to see the continuation of the strong partnershipsthat have been built between faith-based organizations and the Obama Administration.
Josh Dickson is Director of the YDA Faith & Values Initiative. The Rev. Derrick Harkins is the Faith Outreach Director of the Democratic National Committee.