First, this does not apply to institutions with purely religious functions, like churches. However, a Catholic friend told me that she was told that if this passes, the Diocese would be "unable to provide health care for its employees." That is a bald faced lie. Churches are, and continue to be, exempt.
Never mind that a lot of Catholic agencies already provide contraception. But why should we let facts get in the way?
Illinois is one of 28 to have adopted a contraception coverage requirement. Eight of those states provide no opt-out clause for religious institutions and the administration’s new rule would expand conscience protections to those parts of the country.And never mind that no one is forcing an individual woman to use contraception: she's free not to use it, of course, as a personal moral choice. And 98% of Catholic women choose to use contraception (PDF).
A recent poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute also found that a majority of Americans, including a majority of Catholics, support a contraception coverage requirement.
But now, it turns out that the goal is beyond Catholic-affiliated hospitals, to abolish coverage from ALL plans:
[Fixing this] means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, [Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops] said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for "good Catholic business people who can't in good conscience cooperate with this." "If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I'd be covered by the mandate," Picarello said.Now think of what this says, think of the precedent it sets. No employer would have to provide contraception if he claims to be Catholic (and it would be a "he", wouldn't it?) ANYTHING you claim as a religious exemption can be used, under this logic, in a non-religious setting. It's no different to say that a florist doesn't have to do business with a gay person to saying that he doesn't have to do business with a black person, or a Muslim.
What if an employer refused to promote a woman over a man, because of devout fundamentalist beliefs that women must always be subservient? So much for non-discrimination policies and equal pay! And do you want your access to prescriptions to be determined not by you and your doctor, but the fringe beliefs of a pharmacist?
This is an unprecedented intrusion of religious belief into the public square, and a vicious attack on women's rights.
Zack Beauchamp writes (my emphasis)
The only institutions covered by the birth control mandate have chosen to participate in the broader market, a zone of private life governed by political rules. It's incumbent on critics to explain why this particular rule is a dangerous expansion of state power over market actors as compared to, say, forcing a Randian executive to follow minimum wage laws. If they can't, then it seems like the coverage requirement protects women's rights without appreciably increasing the state's threat to private associations.
Update: Turns out this became law under George Bush. This is a manufactured political outrage!
In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies that provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn't provide birth control were in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. That opinion, which the George W. Bush administration did nothing to alter or withdraw when it took office the next month, is still in effect today—and because it relies on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it applies to all employers with 15 or more employees. Employers that don't offer prescription coverage or don't offer insurance at all are exempt, because they treat men and women equally—but under the EEOC's interpretation of the law, you can't offer other preventative care coverage without offering birth control coverage, too.