Obama administration looking to resolve contraception controversy
February 8th, 2012
04:43 PM ET
11 years ago

Obama administration looking to resolve contraception controversy

(CNN) – After an avalanche of criticism, the White House is working on a way to thread the needle on a new health care policy which will require all employers-including religious institutions-to cover contraception in their health insurance plans.

Policy makers are angling for a loophole that would ensure women receive coverage without forcing Catholic charities, hospitals and institutions to pay for it, two senior administration sources told CNN Wednesday.

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The administration is especially interested in the Hawaii model, in which female employees of religious institutions can purchase contraceptive coverage directly from the insurer at the same price offered to employees of all other employers.

Sources said policy makers are also looking at laws in 28 states that have similar coverage requirements.

One source prominent in the progressive Catholic community said the Hawaii plan is a "reasonably good vehicle to try" for a solution that can allay the concerns of Obama's Catholic allies.

Another favored plan, the source said, would be legislation that would allow women employed by religiously-affiliated employers to get contraceptive insurance from the exchanges created under Obama's sweeping health care reform, rather than from their employer's insurer.

Senior administration sources said while the Hawaii plan has appeal, it would not work nationally because the federal government cannot compel insurers to provide a side-contraception plan.

A source familiar with the Catholic community said the Obama administration talked to at least one progressive Catholic organization Wednesday as they looked to calm concerns about the policy on contraception. The White House would not confirm the discussion.

Sources familiar with White House thinking on a solution to the controversy caused by the ruling said the administration is aiming to win over progressive Catholics and is convinced approval from conservative Catholics is out of reach.

Catholic leaders, like the United States Conference of Bishops, have said nothing short of a reversal on the policy will allay their concerns.

As for a timeframe, policymakers will announce their decision when the Department of Health and Human Services officially releases the rule, sources said.

The new policy stirred an outcry last week among conservatives and religious groups–particularly Catholics, whose teaching opposes abortion and the use of contraceptives.

While churches are exempt from the rule, hospitals and schools with religious affiliations must comply. The new policy goes into effect on August 1, but religious groups will have a year-long extension to enforce the rule.

While the regulations have caused a firestorm of criticism, a new study released by the Public Religion Research Institute shows the majority of Catholics support the administration's plan. Nearly 6 out of 10 Catholics think employers should be required to provide this kind of insurance coverage. Among Catholic voters, support for the measure is slightly lower at 52%.

The administration first signaled it was softening its stance on the rule on Tuesday, when White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the administration was seeking alternative solutions for the issue.

"The president's interest at a policy level is in making sure that this coverage is extended to all women because it's important," Carney said. "(On) the other side is finding the right balance…concerns about religious beliefs and convictions. So we will, in this transition period …seek to find ways to implement that policy that allay some of those concerns."

On Wednesday House Speaker John Boehner called the policy an "ambiguous attack on religious freedom" and announced the chamber would pursue legislative action to prevent the rule from going into effect.

"If the president does not reverse the department's attack on religious freedom, then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people, and the constitution, that we're sworn to uphold and defend, must," Boehner said on the House floor, adding the Energy and Commerce committee would spearhead the effort.

The Republican presidential candidates have also been vocal about the policy on the campaign trail. Frontrunner Mitt Romney has said he would eliminate the rule on his first day in office.

But on Thursday the White House hit back repeating an argument used by Romney's GOP opponents and pointing to a Massachusetts law in effect while Romney was governor that required hospitals-including Catholic ones-to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.

"This is I think ironic that Mitt Romney is expressing – criticizing the president for pursuing a policy that is virtually identical to the one that was in place when he was governor of Massachusetts," Carney said.

Responding to Carney's remarks on Wednesday, the candidate said Carney needs to "check his history."

In 2005 then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney vetoed a bill that would have required all hospitals - including Catholic hospitals - to provide emergency contraception. The state legislature overrode the governor’s veto. Accordng to news reports at the time initially the governor said his administration would not enforce the law at Catholic hospitals; then he reversed course and said all hospitals would have to supply the morning after pill.

He’s quoted saying “my personal view in my heart of hearts is that people who are sbuject to rape should have the option of having emergency contraception or emergency contraception information.” Two of his Republican opponents have recently attacked him for this decision.

"I worked very hard to get the legislature to remove all of the mandated coverages, including contraception," Romney said during a media availability. "So quite clearly he needs to understand that was a provision that got there before I did and it was one that I fought to remove."

Also see:

Romney will take tougher approach to Santorum, adviser says

Gingrich touts nationwide campaign

Paul, on quests for delegates, looks past Tuesday contests

Obama's fashion fundraiser

Filed under: Faith • Health care • Jay Carney • Mitt Romney • White House
soundoff (88 Responses)
  1. Lynmarbro

    Why has nobody addressed the simple fact that women are being discriminated against when they cannot get the healthcare benefits they need.

    February 8, 2012 08:21 pm at 8:21 pm |
  2. Romancath

    The only hope for America- Mandatory contraception for anyone voting for Santorum or Gingrich. Make it retroactive.

    February 8, 2012 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  3. James PDX

    The Old Testament clearly states in Deuteronomy that if a man rapes a woman, he pays 50 shekels to the father and they must marry for life. So why would a rape victim need the morning after pill when she has just been impregnated by her future husband?

    February 8, 2012 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  4. The Dude

    Religion is so stupid.

    February 8, 2012 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  5. NoObama

    Democrats love to force others to pay for their view of what is a right. This at the same time they don't like to pay their taxes – see Buffett, Wrangle, Dashle, Geitner ..........

    February 8, 2012 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  6. range99

    If I own a business, and I hate babies, can I provide insurance only for adults and exclude all children, maternity benefits, etc? How about if I don't believe old men should have "unnatural" relations–can I exclude Viagra and Cialis from covered benefits? Or is it only if these are part of my religious beliefs?

    February 8, 2012 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  7. Larry

    The Catholic outcry over Obama administration's birth control decision will not be factor in presidential race

    It won't be a factor. The majority of Catholics will not vote for a Mormon who is not a Christian and especially since the anti-christ (Mitt) has birth control provisions in Romneycare.

    The lesser of two evils (in their eyes) will be Obama.

    February 8, 2012 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  8. GI Joe.

    As a non-catholic - I REFUSE TO BE DICTATED TO BY THE POPE.

    February 8, 2012 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  9. socathy1

    Classic Republican flap over nuthin.' Republicans don't have a policy, a plan or (heaven help them) a candidate so let's all vote based on how we feel about birth control!!! That will bring in the right wing base when we don't have anything else!! Yes, birth control policy correctness is what this country deperately needs right now. This one issue will sum up the rest of the Rebuplican campaign because they are shooting blanks every where else. Ha ha pun intended.

    February 8, 2012 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  10. Larry

    Obama is getting the women vote.

    He is protecting women's rights to healthcare.

    Let the Democrats attack his issues. He doesn't need them anyway. His approval is 5 times larger. And the Democrats have shown time again that they are weak kneed pansies.

    This is his campaign strategy, run against congress.

    February 8, 2012 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  11. Debbie

    The White House should not bend and have a back bone. If they bend for the Catholic Church they must by law bend for Islam businesses, Jewish businesses, etc. This is a slippery slope. Obama should let all Catholics know that these are businesses and if he allows an out for the Catholic Church he must also allow an out for all other religious businesses. Ask an Evangelical if this is an issue of religious freedom and they will say yes. Ask them if they are willing to allow similar issues such as Sharia law within their church businesses and they will say no. But in the USA it can't be just for Catholics but all religions.

    February 8, 2012 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  12. jo an

    Let the Catholics be Catholic....against women...VIA the guys in Pointy Hats.... Just set up a special fund for the women who want 'birth control'....mark it A GIFT FROM THE WHITE HOUSE....The Republicans/Catholics are making me sick...

    February 8, 2012 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  13. Keith

    What happened to separation of Church and State? The state should not force religious organizations to provide access to services that they believe are fundamentally evil. Employees of these organizations can use their freedom of Choice by finding employment elsewhere.

    It's amazing how Liberals view of the consitution is so distorted. They deride these same groups for expressing their religious beliefs in public (Christ in the Manger displayed in a public park at Christmas for example) yet are more than happy to force their Liberal beliefs down their throats. Just so you Liberals understand, what you are forcing these religious organizations to do is just short of aiding and abetting murder in their eyes and the eyes of God. Put in that context it's disgusting.

    February 8, 2012 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
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