The move was strongly opposed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who wanted the law to allow for a religious exemption. Obama took their concerns seriously (too seriously, in my opinion), and a meeting with the U.S.C.C.B. sparked outrage and protest from many concerned about religious encroachment on women's health.
But yesterday we learned that Obama didn't pander to religious groups, who want to hide behind religion and religious exemptions to strip women of their rights and endanger their health. Or at least, he didn't totally pander to them. The ruling still includes a religious exemption that allows religious institutions, like churches, and small religious-based nonprofits that can prove that the majority of their employees are people of the same faith, to not provide insurance that covers contraception.
Unfortunately, some people of faith are absolutely outraged by the decision, calling it a "disaster" and saying that Obama is marginalizing people of faith and pandering to the far-left's sexual politics. Even the pope is involved, issuing an address to the bishops of the United States in which he says:
It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres... Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level. In this regard, I would mention with appreciation your efforts to maintain contacts with Catholics involved in political life and to help them understand their personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time: respect for God’s gift of life, the protection of human dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights.
There are also lots of comments with a liberals-are-so-quick-to-cry-out-separation-of-church-and-state-so-shouldn't-that-also-apply-to-this-outrage! theme.
Honestly, I think the outrage is ridiculous and demonstrates that many people don't understand exactly what separation of church and state means.
Obama isn't pandering to the far-left's sexual politics, because it isn't just the far-left who think that birth control should be accessible. And it isn't just crazy liberal women who use it. As the statement by the Dept of HHS itself says, "Birth control is the most commonly taken drug by young and middle-aged women." And as we know, 97% of Catholic women will use birth control at some point in their lives. This isn't pandering to some far-left sexual ideology, this is ensuring that women have access to a drug that they clearly want and use, one that is crucial to their health and quality of life.
Secondly, the law isn't forcing anyone to do anything that their faith prohibits. It isn't saying that people MUST use contraception. It simply says that if they want it, they need to have access to it. If you are a Catholic woman who strongly opposes contraception at a place where it is now covered by insurance, simply do not ask for a prescription for contraception. The ruling isn't encroaching on your religious freedom to do so.
One of the big concerns over a religious exemption was Catholic universities, where many non-Catholic students attend and many students - both Catholic and non-Catholic alike - are having sex and should be able to do so safely. From what I can tell, universities are one of the few places that will really be affected by the ruling, since churches and many religious non-profits are exempt. I'm sure many people would say something along the lines of, "If you're not Catholic, don't go to a Catholic school!" which is fine and dandy for them to say. However, it doesn't change the fact that by depriving non-Catholics, or Catholics who disagree with the idea that contraception is wrong, access to contraception, they are depriving those people of their rights and their religious freedom. Religious freedom means that you have a right to make a moral decision about your actions and behavior based on your religious beliefs. It does not mean that you have a right to make it impossible for other people to do something that contradicts your religious beliefs.
I suppose a final argument could be made that religious persons are now having to spend their tax money on something that they disagree with. And honestly, I sympathize. I do. Because I have had to pay taxes that largely fund wars I disagree with, prison systems I think are inhumane, a justice system that uses the death penalty, and programs I think are inefficient and ridiculous (hello, abstinence only sex-ed!). But the bottom line is that despite my objections, I had to pay them. Because while I can vote and advocate to change the system, I can't opt out of the system. Catholics, in in particular, should be well aware of the fact that that is how it works, because the last time I checked the Church also disagreed with the recent wars, our inhumane prison system, and the death penalty. Where is your outrage over your tax money being used for these things? Why do I only hear the "tax money" argument brought up around reproductive rights?
I think one of the reasons this ruling has been so difficult for certain religious groups is that it highlights an increasingly divergent understanding of religious freedom. To many religious groups, religious freedom means that no one in the U.S. should have a right to do something they find morally wrong; no one should have access to abortion, no gay couple should be allowed to get married, no one should be able to conduct stem cell research. Yet, as stated previously, that means they are depriving others of their right to religious freedom, to make decisions based on their own construction of morality.
That isn't religious freedom, that is religious tyranny.