President Barack Obama

February 20, 2012

President Barack Obama has outlined a plan that would allow religious employers not to offer free contraception and sterilization services to their employees but would compel insurance companies to do so.

The president announced the policy in a brief statement Feb. 10 but took no questions.

"No women's health should depend on who she is, who she works for or how much money she makes," Obama said.

The new policy remains faithful to the "core principle" of free preventive care, but also honours the principle of religious freedom, which "as a Christian, I cherish," he said.

Obama's move was an attempt to end the controversy over a federal mandate that all health insurance plans include free contraception and sterilization. However, it seems unlikely the changes will meet that objective.

In a statement issued Feb. 10, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Obama's decision to retain the contraceptive mandate "is both unsupported in the law and remains a grave moral concern."

The conference also said the continued "lack of clear protection for key stakeholders . . . is unacceptable and must be corrected."

"The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for (the Department of Health and Human Services) to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services," it added.