On Friday, the Obama administration announced a rule change to accommodate religious organizations on the issue of contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. So far, pro-choice groups who hoped the administration would not to cave on the issue have seemed broadly satisfied with the changes, having been assured by the President that “all women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services.”
The new rule shifts the onus of coverage from employers to insurers. “The insurance company will be required to reach out directly and offer her contraceptive coverage free of charge,” an administration official told reporters on a conference call.
Women’s groups are taking the administration at its word that the change will not cost women coverage. “In the face of a misleading and outrageous assault on women’s health, the Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work,” read Planned Parenthood’s statement. “We believe the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman’s ability to access these critical birth control benefits.”NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan echoed that sentiment, “Today’s announcement makes it clear that President Obama is firmly committed to protecting women’s health,” she said in a statement. EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock stressed the importance of electing pro-choice women to act as a “firewall” to protect access and is pleased that the new rule will hold the line on contraceptive coverage.
However, pro-choice groups stress the need to continue to protect access. “Unfortunately, some opponents of contraception may not be satisfied” Keenan wrote. “These groups and their allies in Congress want to take away contraceptive coverage” for women at religious organizations. Likewise, Planned Parenthood promised to be “vigilant” in ensuring that “the administration and the institutions accountable for a rigorous, fair and consistent implementation of the policy.”
Another important endorsement of the rule change came from the Catholic Health Association, whose president, Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, said in a statement that the CHA is “very pleased” with the change, which “protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions. The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed.” Their endorsement should help insulate the administration from pro-lifers unsatisfied with the compromise.
One pro-choice group that was also unsatisfied with the fiddle was Catholics for Choice, whose president Jon O’Brien sees the accommodation as a victory for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The devil is in the details,” O’Brien told TPM, which takes the position that only time will tell if the new rule preserves access for all women. O’Brien also noted that there are now three tiers of coverage: rules for churches whose plans will not provide coverage for contraception, rules for religious organizations like hospitals, and rules for secular employers.
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