Obama administration looking to resolve contraception controversy
February 8th, 2012
04:43 PM ET
10 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. Kev

    Well Obama crossed the line on this one. It don'\t matter if people of Catholic Faith support or don't don't suppor. What matters is Obama has no right to tell a Religion what to do. Obama is a dictator or thinks he is. He can not tell Private Religions that you do this or else. When will it end people? Come on already. Obama can not get re-elected Americans aren't that stupid just cant be.

    February 8, 2012 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  2. Phil in KC

    If they're taking federal money, then they should have to abide by the same rules and all the other organizations. If they don't like it, they can stop taking federal money. It's called equal treatment under the law. That was once thought a good idea.

    February 8, 2012 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  3. Victoria Ryan-Bailey

    If you think this is a moot issue, think again. For thousands of female teachers, nurses, and other professionals and family members working for faith-based groups, it is critical. Most health care plans offered to them by their employers have no provision for birth control. While working for a mail order pharmacy based here in St. Louis, I advised a young high schoolteacher in her 20's that while her company plan offered her free adoption counseling service if she became pregnant, they did not pay for any birth control pills to prevent it. I advised her to register at a local clinic that would service her needs based on income. She was devastated. President Obama is wise to support women's rights and reject the contradictory doubletalk being spoken.

    February 8, 2012 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  4. Willie Floyd

    After about 5 yrs. he may be gone-but he will never be forgotten!! Remembered as one of the best presidents in history. LIVE WITH IT!!

    OBAMA/BIDEN 2012

    February 8, 2012 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  5. seriously???

    Four and the Door and all you other Obama haters... just know that I will be thinking of you when Obama wins re-election. I know you'll be back under your rocks by then, so that's why I'm saying it now.

    February 8, 2012 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  6. Mike500

    Funny how liberals want religion out of government but don't mind government interfering in religion.

    February 8, 2012 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  7. angell611

    So the religious hospitals and clinics don't want the government to require they provide employee benefits because it is against their religion, but they don't mind taking the "evil" government's money to help fund them and help pay the employees, do they? When they decline to accept any form of government money (medicare etc.), I will respect them but until then, SHUT UP.

    February 8, 2012 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  8. PatSJ

    NothingBTT: Really? "Obama saw MILLIONS angry over the infringment on religious beliefs" – Really? What millions would that have been? Just something else that Fox news got riled up about. Most people in this country don't care that a Catholic hospital, which receives federal tax money and employees people of every religion, should be prohibited from excluding birth control pills in the health care plans it offers. What the millions Would be angry about is if birth control was once again removed from health care plans. You are not the telling the truth, when you make outrageous claims like "millions".

    February 8, 2012 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  9. PatSJ

    Do you ever wonder why the Catholic church forbids birth control? Because they want more Catholics. Plain and simple. They don't care if a woman dies giving birth, or if a family can afford another child, or if the current children are hungry or lack education. Its all about numbers. Think about it, then think about whether the church should be able to dictate what is covered in your health insurance policy.

    February 8, 2012 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  10. donnas

    As soon as all of us "good catholic girls" graduated from high school in the 1960's-when birth control pills became available -WE WERE ON IT! All Catholics know this!!! This is a ridiculous issue to debate in the 21st Century. Besides, with 7 billions now on the planet...."free birth control for all" should be our mantra!

    February 8, 2012 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  11. whattime

    Conservatives need to support Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is the most effective crime prevention group in the US. They have a 60% success rate at eliminating convicts in training before they commit their first crime. Go planned Parenthood cut out all of the hood rats.

    February 8, 2012 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  12. Max

    Religious people should not even try to be exempt from rules that protect people's health. It's obscene that they would try to be.

    February 8, 2012 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  13. Max

    Perhaps people should try to think of protecting peoples health, rather than servicing their mythology.

    February 8, 2012 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  14. Lynn

    Here, sign on the dotted line all you anti-abortion conservatives. How many kids will you sign up for, adopt and raise. Those that complain the loudest, step up and put your money where your mouth's are or shut up and let women decide what to do with their own bodies.

    February 8, 2012 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  15. Max

    Women's health is important. Controlling when one is pregnant is important to one's well being and health. Religion should not conflict with reality.

    February 8, 2012 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  16. Age of Reason

    If a religion prohibits blood transfusions for example does this mean they do not have to cover this in the health insurance they offer their employees? This is ridiculous. Contraception is life and death. Ever watch someone with AIDS die?

    February 8, 2012 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  17. us1776

    Catholic women can just select from the services available according to their religion.

    No need to remove any available services from healthcare plans which would just be totally stupid.


    February 8, 2012 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  18. Jean Garnier

    I cannot believe that in this day and age this old argument is being fought again. It is a health issue pure an simple and all employers should pay for it for their employees

    February 8, 2012 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  19. Kathy Smith

    I truly hope President Obama does not cave on this issue. The right does not want contraception, and they HATE abortion BUT we sure can not take care of these unplanned,unwanted babies through health care, food, daycare for mom to work or housing once they get here! total IDIOTS!!!

    February 8, 2012 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  20. Be Real

    So CNN in their great wisdom has decided to uh moderate my post, fine. I guess they think they are a church.The short version is this; Obama is right because a religious group wants to make the rules shouldn't claim a non-profit status plus get money from the government (that's you and me folks) why should I pay for kids that will have no father and be brought up to be a criminal? We have far too many single parent families as it stands and that doesn't work out for the majority does it? We don't need to be stuck in the middle ages like other religions now should we?

    February 8, 2012 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  21. lefty avenger

    Does anyone else find it peculiar that an Unborn Fetus is sacred and holy and when the child is born without monetary support the once sacred Fetus becomes a welfare food stamp bum and cheat not worthy of an education? How does this mysterious transformation take place?

    February 8, 2012 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  22. Keith

    President Obama is the model of a strong intelligent leader who is unfraid to work with opposing views to find common ground in which all American's benefit. Many of the problems America faces could be quickly and easily solved if more members of Congress followed his example and also placed America first.

    February 8, 2012 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  23. orakel

    HHS has mandated other people provide goods and services free. At some point, you run out of people and organizations you can tap for to provide free stuff. Which worries me a bit, since I work for a quasi-socialist oranization where high performers don't get much more compared to the no performers.

    February 8, 2012 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  24. marty

    Religion has no business dictating to government, BUT government has no business dictating to religion either. What happens to a rape victim should be covered-what happens in the privacy of one's own bedroom should be paid for by the participants, not by me.

    February 8, 2012 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  25. Keith

    Anybody who thinks American Catholics are completely in line with the Catholic Church knows nothing about American Catholics. The Catholic Church even knows that American Catholics are not in line with the Church itself.

    February 8, 2012 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
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