Think what you wish of President Barack Obama’s attempt Friday to end a fierce skirmish over insurance coverage of drugs that prevent conceptions and induce abortions.

The president said he would guarantee that coverage, without cost to female recipients. Under his modified mandate, he said, “religious organizations won’t have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly.” It’s the “directly” — and the persistent distinction between “religious organizations” and “religious institutions” — that’s sure to keep this controversy aflame.

In Obama’s scenario, that is, religiously affiliated institutions such as schools, hospitals or charities would supply insurance for their workers’ other health services; employees who also want contraceptives would get them from the insurers. What’s unclear is who actually pays for the drugs — the insurers or the employers? If insurers simply divert money from health premiums paid by the religious institutions to cover contraceptive costs, then employers who have religious objections to buying these drugs will end up footing the bill. We’ll all learn, as more details come forward, whether this new directive is a full recognition of religious rights, or a shell game.

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