Health Team

Obama revamps birth control policy

Posted February 10, 2012

— Retreating in the face of a political uproar, President Barack Obama on Friday announced that religious employers won't have to cover birth control for their employees. The administration instead will demand that insurance companies be the ones directly responsible for providing free contraception.

Obama's abrupt shift is an attempt to satisfy both sides of a deeply sensitive debate, and most urgently, to end a mounting election-year nightmare for the White House.

Women will still get guaranteed access to birth control without co-pays or premiums no matter where they work, a provision of Obama's health care law that he insisted must remain. But religious universities and hospitals that see contraception as an unconscionable violation of their faith can refuse to cover it, and insurance companies will then have to step in to do so.

"No woman's health should depend upon who she is or where she works or how much money she makes," the president said in a statement to reporters at the White House. "Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health, period."

By keeping free contraception for employers at religious workplaces – but providing a different way to do it – the White House asserts that it gave no ground on the basic principle of full preventative care that matters most to Obama.

Yet, it also was clear that Obama felt he had no choice but to retreat on a three-week-old policy in the face of a fierce political furor that showed no signs of cooling.

Obama said his staff consulted leaders on both sides of the debate to forge a decision, but he had to speed up the process because of the uproar.

"Religious organizations won't have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly," he said. "But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women."

White House officials said Obama has the legal authority to order insurance companies to provide free contraception coverage directly to workers. He will demand it in a new rule.

Following an intense White House debate that led to the original policy, officials said Obama seriously weighed the concerns over religious liberty, leading to the revamped decision.

It was just on Jan. 20 that the Obama administration announced that religious-affiliated employers – outside of churches and houses of worships – had to cover birth control free of charge as preventative care for women. These hospitals, schools and charities were given an extra year to comply, until August 2013, but that concession failed to satisfy opponents, who responded with outrage.

Catholic cardinals and bishops across the country assailed the policy in Sunday Masses. Republican leaders in Congress promised emergency legislation to overturn Obama's move. The president's rivals in the race for the White House accused him of attacking religion. Prominent lawmakers from Obama's own party began openly deriding the policy.

The sentiment on the other side, though, was also fierce. Women's groups, liberal religious leaders and health advocates pressed Obama not to cave in on the issue.

The furor has consumed media attention and threatened to undermine Obama's re-election bid just as he was in a stride over improving economic news. Political reality forced the White House to come up with a solution to a complex matter must faster than anticipated.

"Some folks in Washington may want to treat this as a political wedge issue, but it shouldn't be," the president said. "This is an issue where people of goodwill on both sides of the debate have been sorting through some very complicated questions to find a solution that works for everyone.

"We've done that. Religious liberty will be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women."

Under the new policy, religious employers will not be required to offer contraception and will not have to refer their employees to places that provide it. If such an employer opts out, the employer's insurance company must provide birth control for free in a separate arrangement with workers who want it.

The change will still take affect with an extra year built in, in August 2013.

Already, 28 states had required health insurance plans to cover birth control before the federal regulations were issued. However, they appear to have differing exemptions for religious employers.

Obama's health care law requires most insurance plans to cover women's preventative services, without a co-pay, starting on Aug. 1. Those services include well women visits, domestic violence screening and contraception, all designed to encourage health care that many women may otherwise find unaffordable.

The White House says covering contraception saves insurance companies money by keeping women healthy; how the insurance industry will see the mandate is another question.

Without adjusting his stand, Obama has risked alienated Catholics who have become courted swing voters in such pivotal political states as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. In 2008, Obama won 54 percent of the total Catholic vote, compared to 45 percent for Republican John McCain.

As the week wore on, the White House increasingly signaled that a change was coming.

Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, said in a radio interview Thursday that "there is going to be a significant attempt to work this out and there is time to do that."

Outside advocates were urging a quick resolution.

"As a Catholic I don't want to hear about this in Mass every week until the election," said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats For Life of America. "I don't think it's good for the party and I don't think it's good for Obama's re-election chances."


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  • jet2rdu Feb 10, 2012

    If the Prez was the CEO of a corporation, and ran it like he is pushing and revising his healthcare agenda, he would be voted out by the board of directors and angry stockholders. Lets give him a similar outcome in November.

  • WRALwontdeletemyaccount Feb 10, 2012

    "The solution would be to go to universal healthcare and adopt cost cutting measures like other countries use."

    Yeah, European Socialism is REALLY working out well!

  • WRALwontdeletemyaccount Feb 10, 2012

    He is an evil man.

  • juncyard v2 Feb 10, 2012

    Everyone screams separation of church and state and they want religious freedom.....That is until muslims try to build a mosque 2 miles from ground zero...then separation of church and state do not matter anymore.....................

    Seems odd to me...can anyone help me with it???

  • jet2rdu Feb 10, 2012

    Isn't it amazing that obamacare was passed by the Democrat Controlled Congress two years ago and we are just now finding out that even more of certain provisions of it are having consequences on and for certain individuals, companies, religions and other groups.

    As then Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "you have to pass the bill so you can know what is in it." What Nancy should have said, to be closer to the truth, is "You have to pass the bill and you still will not know what is in it until years later when we have to implement it".

    In other words, if the real consequences of Obamacare were know before it was passed, there would have been greater opposition from more of the public. As we get closer to implementation of more sections of it, we will have more and more worms leaving the rotten apple. It will take more than revisions to fix it, it will need repeal to fix it.

    It should have been called "Obamadontcare".

  • Plenty Coups Feb 10, 2012

    "What if you are unemployed and cant afford it? Do you have to forgo paying your mortgage to afford health insurance?"

    The conservative answer would be tough, why should I pay for you? The solution would be to go to universal healthcare and adopt cost cutting measures like other countries use.

  • WooHoo2You Feb 10, 2012

    vegitalv12 I disagree. Non religion, the freedom of morality from God that drives the brutal history behind communism and these dictators. So the anti-God moment (although not under atheism) still holds the award for the most deaths... the religious side just gets a bad rap since they have a name associated with their bad actions. Bottom line: People will find a reason to hate and kill. But far fewer of them have been done under the name of religion.-mep

    Crusades? Christians being hunted and killed under Rome? Islamic attacks? Witch hunts? The inquisition? Tribal wars in India based on interpretation of their faith? Should I keep going?

  • Plenty Coups Feb 10, 2012

    "I don't want to have to drive any longer than I have to in case of emergency because some religious hospital won't give me or a family member blood transfusions due to religious beliefs." Plenty Coups

    Boylan-"Typical liberal extreme view on everything."

    Is that supposed to be an argument? Just call it a "extreme liberal view"? Better hope you never get in an accident and the local religious hospital deny you care for one reason or another.

    If these religious hospitals really want their religious freedom, they need to give up all federal funding.

  • onlymy2cents Feb 10, 2012

    not to mention the putting off of the GOVERNMENT DEMAND that EVERY AMERICAN BUY HEALTHCARE...

    What if you are unemployed and cant afford it? Do you have to forgo paying your mortgage to afford health insurance? How does the new bill address this issue? Any Obama supporters which to shed light on this scenario?

  • onlymy2cents Feb 10, 2012

    It's all about votes.

    Amen Danny