The mandateAs part of the Affordable Care Act, all health insurance plans are required to cover preventative care without co-pay, but the definition of such care was left to the executive branch. On the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences, the Obama Administration included birth control--in particular female birth control, like the pill--in preventative care. This means that all insurers must cover contraceptives without co-pay. The full text of the most up-to-date proposal for the mandate can be found here: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2012/03/21/2012-6689/certain-preventive-services-under-the-affordable-care-act
The objectionCatholic institutions objected on the grounds that contraception is against the teachings of the Catholic Church. They felt it a breach of religious freedom that they were required to pay for products the primary use of which they considered to be immoral. As the Obama Administration has responded to this objection the complaints have changed. The most recent statements by the USCCB can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/
The responseThe administration, gradually, made the following adjustments/clarifications to address the conscientious objections:
- The mandate only applies to non-Church organizations, such as Hospitals, Charities, and Schools. Parishes and other institutions who primarily hire and serve Catholics (or people of other objecting faiths) are exempt.
- Insurance organizations must not charge the insuring institution for additional contraceptive coverage.
- For self-insured institutions (most large catholic organizations), the cost of the contraceptive coverage would be born in full by an external entity, rather than by the institution itself.
- (A clarification) The cost of insurance plans with full contraceptive coverage is actually lower than the cost of insurance plans without full contraceptive coverage.
Some links to articles on the subject
Since no Catholic institution will have to pay for contraceptive coverage (free from insurers, and free from insurance managers for self-insured institutions), there is no violation of conscience. Since US law recognizes rights of reproductive freedom and privacy, allowing institutions to inspect employees' sexual practices in the provisioning of healthcare (for instance to cover the pill for ovarian cyst treatment but not contraception) is arguably a violation of employee rights. And since I conceive religious freedom as essentially individual rather than institutional and no individual is coerced by this law, I can find no valid religious-freedom argument against it. The case is further undermined by the governments subsidy of health insurance: taking the government's subsidy means taking the strings attached too. I do think that it might be reasonable to fine non-compliant institutions the exact amount of government subsidy as another means of exemption, but even that butts up against employee rights in an uncomfortable way.
My previous thoughts (in chronological order)
These kind of shift around as the situation and my view of it shifts, but the in series they follow all the important points of argument, and the comments often include useful insights or counter-arguments.