White House Seeks To Mute Catholic Uproar Over Contraception Rule

February 10, 2012 7:23 am

In the days since the conservative and religious uproar over the Obama administration’s new contraceptive rule first erupted, the White House has been attempting to thread a policy needle so that nearly all women can receive free contraceptive services from their employer-provided health insurers, without forcing religious non-profits to provide benefits they oppose on “moral” grounds.

On Friday, President Obama announced the plan, which senior administration officials described in detail on a conference call with reporters.

“All women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services,” one official said. But if a religious institution declines to provide coverage that includes contraceptive services, “the insurance company will be required to reach out directly and offer her contraceptive coverage free of charge.”The administration argues further that because contraceptive services prevent the costs of unintended pregnancies, the rule comes with no financial costs to either the insurer or religious employer. A similar rule resulted in no premium increases in the Federal Employee Health Benefits plan, officials noted, and the White House argues this moots the charge that religious money will be indirectly footing the bill for birth control and other contraception.

Ultimately, though, President Obama says he won’t cave on the underlying principle: “no woman’s health should depend on who she is, or where she works, or what her health is or how much money she makes. Period,” he said in Friday White House remarks.

Women’s groups and legislative leaders reacted positively, if with a bit of dismay, to the development — a policy shift the White House refers to as an accommodation.

“I stand by my support for the original recommendation offered by the independent Institute of Medicine,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) in a statement sent our way, “but I am glad that we can move forward with an acceptable accommodation that addresses the concerns raised and, most importantly, protects women and supports their health care needs.”

The White House also settled on language that key Catholic organizations, including the Catholic Health Association — one of the biggest stakeholders in this fight — approved, leaving hardliners like the Conference of Catholic Bishops somewhat more isolated.

It wasn’t immediately clear how far the compromise would tamp down the vitriol flung in the administration’s way from congressional Republicans. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) was one of the first to release a statement in response. In it he dismissed the change and vowed to push on:

“Just because you can come up with an accounting gimmick and pretend like religious institutions do not have to pay for the mandate, does not mean that you’ve satisfied the fundamental constitutional freedoms that all Americans are guaranteed.”

Here’s the video of President Obama’s announcement:

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