U.S. Roman Catholic bishops called the Obama administration's pledge to soften an employer birth control mandate "dubious," saying Wednesday they would continue fighting for a broader religious exemption to the rule.
The policy, announced in January, requires nearly all employers to provide insurance coverage that includes free birth control for workers. Houses of worship are exempt; religiously affiliated charities, hospitals and schools are not.
Bishops and their supporters consider the religious exemption in the mandate unfairly narrow. In the face of intense protest, President Barack Obama last month said insurance companies would pay for the coverage instead of religious employers. No details have been announced.
After meeting in Washington, the top committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said they would "continue to accept any invitation to dialogue with the executive branch to protect the religious freedom that is rightly ours.'" However, they called Obama's plan to address their concerns "unspecified and dubious."
"This is not about access to contraception, which is ubiquitous and inexpensive," the bishops said in a statement. "This is not about the church wanting to force anybody to do anything. It is instead about the federal government forcing the church _ consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions _ to act against church teachings."
A White House spokesman declined to comment.
Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy council for the American Civil Liberties Union, said that under the bishops' definition of religious freedom, women would be denied coverage for contraceptives "based on the employer's, not the woman's, personal beliefs."
"A woman's health care needs are what is most important in this debate, and her rights to live her life according to her beliefs, and the freedom to not have someone else's imposed on her," Lipton-Lubet said.