ACLU challenges Catholic bishops on birth-control rules

The American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday that the Obama administration shouldn’t scale back new rules requiring healthcare plans to cover contraception.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said recently that the rules don’t have a broad enough exemption for religious organizations. Institutions such as churches don’t have to cover contraception in their employees’ healthcare plans, but the exemption does not extend to larger entities such as Catholic hospitals and universities.

The healthcare reform law requires insurance plans to cover categories of preventive healthcare without charging a co-payment. The Health and Human Services Department, acting on a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine, included contraception in the package of mandatory preventive services for women.

Many employees at large Catholic institutions do not share the church’s objections to birth control, said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s program on religious freedom.

“Virtually all sexually active women use birth control — no matter their religion,” Mach said in a news release. “These guidelines are tremendous for women. It’s critically important they stay intact.”