Friday, February 10, 2012

So the White House Didn’t Cave on Birth Control, Right?

February 10, 2012, 3:21 PM
President Barack Obama is joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius while making a statement in the briefing room at the White House on February 10, 2012 in Washington, DC.Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesPresident Barack Obama is joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius while making a statement in the briefing room at the White House on February 10, 2012 in Washington, DC.
It’s a law of politics that when you’re losing the debate, you change it. So with the economy improving and President Obama rising in polls against his likely general election opponent, Mitt Romney, it’s not surprising that the Republicans went looking for an inflammatory social issue. They came up with contraception, which apparently is really controversial even though 99 percent of women rely on it at some point in their lives.
I’m referring, of course, to the ridiculous brouhaha over the new health care rule mandating that businesses provide insurance coverage for birth control. The original version exempted religious institutions, like Catholic churches, but not religiously affiliated ones, like Catholic universities, that cater to the general public.

That concession wasn’t good enough for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Along with such opportunists as House Speaker John Boehner and Rick Santorum, they claimed the president was disregarding the First Amendment and assaulting religious freedom. The idea was to paint Mr. Obama as irreligious, and to chip away at the health care reform law in the process. I guess they were unaware of the 1990 Supreme Court decisionEmployment Division v. Smith, which established that religious liberty doesn’t trump an otherwise neutral law. As Justice Antonin Scalia, that notorious atheist, wrote: “To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”
The latest development is that, under intense pressure, the president today announced an accommodation, of sorts. He said that his administration was standing by the core principle of the rule, which was great news, since I’d observed the tell-tale signs of another Obama administration cave-in. “Women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services – no matter where they work,” he said.
But, he said, “if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company – not the hospital, not the charity – will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.” (I feel obliged to point out that the concept of hassle-free insurance coverage is pretty hilarious, and that I don’t see why women should have to jump through hoops because of their employers’ religious views. Let’s move on.)
Mr. Obama continued:  “The result will be that religious organizations won’t have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly.  Let me repeat:  These employers will not have to pay for, or provide, contraceptive services.  But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptive services, just like other women, and they’ll no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars a year that could go towards paying the rent or buying groceries.”
The Catholic Hospital Association, Catholics United and Planned Parenthood have already released statements in support of this needle-threading. But I’m still sort of confused about how this payment scheme will work.
Sarah Kiff pointed out on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog today that “byone report’s measure, it costs about $21.40 to add birth control, IUDs and other contraceptives to an insurance plan. Those costs may be offset by a reduction in pregnancies. But unless drug manufacturers decide to start handing out free contraceptives, the money to buy them will have to come from somewhere.”
The White House’s argument is that universal access to birth control will lower pregnancy rates (and costs) so much that it will all balance out, within a year. The idea, I guess, is that insurance companies won’t charge more for packages that cover birth control.
I’m skeptical. That puts a lot of faith in the willingness of insurance companies to pass their savings along to their customers.
I’m also uncomfortable with the spectacle of the president and the rest of the government having to tie itself in knots to make the law of the land conform with a particular religious doctrine. What will they do if Jewish- or Muslim- or Protestant-affiliated organizations start asking for specially tailored loopholes?
And how is it that these big ideological brawls keep taking the White House by surprise? Laurie Goodstein reported in the Times today that the U.S.Conference of Catholic Bishops has been planning this battle for months. The administration seemed utterly unprepared for the “death panel” attack on the health care reform law, the debt limit debacle, Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, and now this.


Share your thoughts.
    • TEK
    • NY
    I agree with the supreme court verdict. Freedom of religion does not give religious groups like the Catholic church to dictate to the rest of us, Living in New York, we had many Catholic dictates in the past such as Sunday blue laws , liquor sales hours, night baseball restrictions etc.The church is on the verge of bringing back the whole religous animosity disputes we had years ago.It is so unfortunate that the Catholic church is really of the same inflexible mind as of the past. The bishop's sex scandals still haven't changed them at all. They still believe that only they are acting for G-D.
      • Andre Mehrabian
      • Los Angeles
      church vs. State! The church has no business in what women should do. If a women wants to take a birth control medication; they have the right too. It is called freedom. The government has the right to say what it wants to do with health care and what it will cover. The church should focus on peoples needs and not what they think is right or wrong. If a person is not ready to have a child, t then they should not . It might be due to the fact that our economy is not great and she needs money to have a child. Women should be covered by their employers health care plan. The 22 dollar increase is not going to affect them. What will affect them is when they have a child and the employer now has to cover the birth and other expense of that child. it is ironic that people do not see the big picture at the end! it seems to me republicans don't know what they are taking about yet again!
        • SWELLJILL
        The TRUE and FAIR solution is to eliminate tax breaks for all religions. They are not special! They are businesses and as anyone who has seen one of those corrupt mega churches knows, they are very corrupt and very much a business.
        This solves two key issues.
        1. It makes them accountable to their constituents
        2. It brings in some big bucks.
        The basis of Non Profit was that churches provided a social and personal safety net for the poor and the contributions were therefore tax deductible.
        The idea that some child molesting geezer who answers to a Nazi youth geezer in Rome who tells women when and how they are to become "baby factories" to provide a financial base for their useless activities, is repugnant to everything that is freedom and democracy.
        Sure, in the dark ages, religion was necessary. But today, these guys are more like the Taliban and other religious fanatics than support for a loyal community.

        Next, NO MORE LOBBYISTS.
          • Edmund Dantes
          • Stratford, CT
          I'll promise to buy any Viagra out of my own pocket if you'll promise to do the same with birth control pills.
            • Mark
            • Westchester NY
            I'm a Catholic, but believe there are more pressing life issues for the bishops to take up. I consider that providing equitable health care to employees, especially non-catholics falls under the New Testament advice to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's"

            After reading the cover story in last weeks Newsweek regarding the persecution of hundreds of thousands of Christians around the world, (or to find common cause with non Christians, clear violations of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human rights) - why are we not focusing on this issue?

            I think standing up for human rights in nations that receive millions of dollars of US Aid, is something both right and left can agree upon, and clearly within the United States founding principles and our obligations as a member of the UN.

            Once can only cynically wonder if part of our Government's motivation for laying down on our principles is that the administration doesn't want to piss off foreign despots who are recycling our US aid back into contracts with US Companies who are key political donors.

            Instead when real people are dying, we are left with a tempest in a teapot over people taking pills.
              • Tim
              • Chicago
              I don't need the governments help. I don't want the governments help. They are blocking my pursuit of happiness.
                • TEK
                • NY
                Then fight all wars by yourself,fight fires and crimes by yourself etc,
              • Rodney Buckwalter
              • CT
              I think what has not been talked about is the Constitutionality of exempting these Religious affiliated organizations from the Law.
              I'm not a Constitutional Scholar, but in my opinion, two Amendments apply here.
              The First Amendment and the 14th.
              First Amendment provides: Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of Religion.
              The Fourteenth provides: that Government cannot deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

              The PPACA is currently the Law of the Land.

              The First Amendment protects individuals right to exercise religious freedom - it does not protect organizations from adhering to law.

              The Fourteenth Amendment protects individuals from unequal treatment of the law.

              If more than 90% of Catholic women practice contraception at some point and feel as though they are exercising their religious beliefs - the government has not authority to establish that contraception is against the religion of those individuals - nor can it Constitutionally deny those women equal protection under the PPACA law.

              The Church can excommunicate members that "sin" to their hearts desire, but they cannot mandate unequal protection under the law.

              Contraception is a choice. The government isn't mandating it's use - the Church has no say.
                • CJGC
                • Cambridge, MA
                The longer this goes on the more ridiculous and out of touch the celibate men of the RC church appear. They haven't take care of the sin among the Catholic clergy - the sexual abuse of young boys that has gone on for decades, at the very least, both in Europe and the US. They have not apologized much less atoned for ignoring the issue and moving priests from parish to parish etc etc etc.

                These same clergy know full well that over 95% of Catholic women of reproductive age use contraception, whether they "confess" or not. If these men do not want to live in the pluralistic society that is the United States they can retreat behind the walls of their monasteries.

                Luke 6:42 "Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye."

                John 8:7 "So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
                  • R. Breckenridge
                  • Newcastle, ME
                  I have a question for all our valiant GOP defenders of religious liberty?

                  What's the difference between these bishops claiming special rights for their particular brand of superstition and any Moslem cleric disputing the jurisdiction of US law in favor his own interpretation of sharia?
                    • Alice Wonders
                    • AustinTX
                    Who's insurance is this anyway? If employers are telling us that health insurance is part of our total compensation package, then why should an employer's religion have anything to do with that insurance? (And they do say this, suggesting that since the cost of insurance has gone up, we have gotten an implicit raise!)
                      • Rethinking
                      • Rehoboth Beach, DE
                      As long as the U.S. keeps propping up the employer-based health insurance system, we will have disputes like this one. People should have the option of obtaining affordable health coverage of their choice, irrespective of the scruples of their employers.
                        • Daniel Pfeiffer
                        • Kingston, NY
                        Birth control, abortion, Planned Parenthood, gay marriage, etc, etc, etc...I'm getting nauseous.

                        That our government has cared more about caving to religious, financial and corporate institutions over the last 30 years than addressing the great many concerns of the majority tells you everything you need to know about America today.

                        No wonder half this country doesn't vote. What has it ever done to change our course of becoming the most fraudulent and dangerous of nations?

                        There truly is no hope.
                          • Jan Rogozinski
                          • Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
                          Everyone seems to off on his own soap box and ignoring the main point. Which is that requiring "Catholic" hospitals to pay for birth control is in no way any sort of assualt on religion or religious freedom.
                          Now if the government denied the bishops the right to teach Catholics not to use Birth control--now THAT would be an infringement of religious liberty.

                          The point is that no one is stopping the bishops from bloviating and no one is forcing RC women to use birth control. They do so because--given the maximum opportunity to preach to women--the bishops have failed to convince them that birth control is in any way wrong.l The bishops failed to convince RC women because the women (but not the bishops) are sane.
                            • Rodney Buckwalter
                            • Connecticut
                            Sorry, but you are incorrect. The Constitution allows for freedom to exercise religion and equal protection under the law.
                            If exercising religion means not using contraception - then what is the problem. The Government is NOT mandating that anyone use contraception if they feel it is against their religion.

                            But considering the majority of Catholics/Christians do not agree with the Vatican on that point - then exempting those women from equal protection is basically institutionalizing the views of a foreign religious power over the religious beliefs of American citizens.

                            It is not the Governments job to institutionalize the views of the Vatican. If the Church is at odds with their members, then they can excommunicate them. I'm guessing if the Church had the integrity to enforce their own rules - they'd lose a lot of members and I guarantee they'd change their views.

                            No, apparently it is easier for the Church to claim First Amendment protection to keep their sheep in line.

                            I have no problem with people who follow the teachings of their church - but that has to be a choice - not a mandate from the Government.
                          • JSBenton
                          • Green Bay
                          Sorry, but the government has no business telling the management of any corporation what it will and what it won't cover medically for its employees. This is one more example of an epidemic of authoritarian liberalism.

                          It's time we establish a single payer medical system, make one set of rules for all without forcing the Church or any other employer to traduce it's moral teaching, and, not incidentally, make our companies more efficient in this very competitive world trade environment.
                            • CJGC
                            • Cambridge, MA
                            The government has every right and interest in not leaving the details of health care coverage to the whims and idiosyncrasies of employers.

                            That being said, I agree that single payer is the way to go.
                            • Val Fahey
                            • Seattle
                            Sure; what the hell. Let your employer - who happens to be a Jehovah's Witness - bar you from getting a blood transfusion next time you're in an accident.

                            And while we're at it, let's allow employers to pay women less than men as a matter of policy. We "authoritarian liberals" are so over-the-top.
                          • KarlQ
                          • Fancy Gap, VA
                          Some questions for President Obama:
                          - What about "diversity of beliefs"? ...or is diversity only skin deep?
                          - If you declare something a "government mandate" and call it a "right", am I un-American if I believe otherwise?
                          - Does a bureacrat's "ruling" carry the weight of a Constitutional Amendment?
                          - If you can say a healthy fetus cost too much to bring to term, can you say the same about a patient in hospice care?
                          - If bureaucrats can define "healthy", can't they also define "moral"?
                          - Do you really want to live in a world where your deepest felt moral beliefs are subject to fine or imprisonment based not on law, but bureaucratic ruling?
                          - Do you now understand why laws need to read before voted on and only carry weight when a true concenus achieved?
                          If you do something, are you willing to pay for your share of the cost and accept you share of the consequences?
                          In my world, no one has the 'right' to duck responsibility.
                            • Phil
                            • Glen Allen, VA
                            What this presumed debate and stumble by the Obama administration did was to allow the GOP to toot their horns for "religious freedom" and once more demonstrate their ignorance and alienate potential voters. As noted, the religious angle has long ago been settled in that religious liberty doesn't trump an otherwise neutral law. While I'd like to believe that the Obama administration planned this "trap," as some have suggested, it it much more likely that this issue, one among several dozen that the president and his top aides were juggling, simply limped along--because there was disagreement about the effect--and announced it hoping for the best--which wasn't!
                              • Joey lll
                              • Jersey City
                              I'm under the impression insurance is for an event that has a statistical probability of not occuring, certainly not the case for contraception. Point: This is the basis, and this is a positive point, of socialized medicine, the difference between Canada and the US is the private sector is the supplier here. What's the difference what it's called as long as everyone is sharing in it?
                                • Engineer
                                • New York, NY
                                The new bill, while trying to force everyone to pay for birth control and abortofacients without a copay, including religious institutions – which the state has no jurisdiction over, due to the apparent dogmatic and political moral imperative, does not cover heart medication, cancer medication or any antibiotic without a copay. A child suffering with cancer, by no fault of their own, will be liable for bills and copays they may not be able to afford for treatment, as they need it to survive, yet lifestyle choices of people need to be paid for, even though they can pay 4 to 9 dollars for a month worth at Wal-Mart, furthermore, men's prophylactics are not explicitly covered, which actually potentially prevent disease transmission, thought not perfectly. Isn't the dogmatic and political moral imperative of the state bizarre?We have the right to LIFE, LIBERTY and the PURSUIT of happiness
                                  • Engineer
                                  • New York, NY
                                  Do not violate my civil rights. I do not want you forcing your dogmatic/religious belief on me. I must pay for birth control abortofacients and others lifestyles. anyone can go out and by birth control. This compromise was rephrasing the same plan, there is no free lunch. why can people truly not opt out. Why do everyone's "rights", which generally violate the 10th amendment and curtail my rights of free agency, require me to assume financial responsibility for them and become intimately a party to their actions?concerning you need a prescription from a cardiologist/pulmanologist , a heart medication Viagra's original use or a urologist for ED, no recreational coverage. BC is covered when it is prescribed of other uses than contraception
                                    • Kyle Reising
                                    • Watkinsville, GA
                                    Political posturing is about results and if you can avert your attention from the latest failure of this administration to stand up to orthodox Christian exceptionalism you will see women retain access to group policy birth control benefits. The 25% of eligible voters who sent the 112th congress to Washington DC are elated at yet another triumph for their moral principles. They mistake the words of their cherished authority figures claiming a righteous victory of moral superiority for the results of the Obama administration preserving access to insurance benefits covering birth control. The party of white Christian orthodoxy wins the right to crow about getting their way and the rest of the nation gets what is beneficial to the greater good.

                                    The politics of exclusion and division won the battle but lost the war. The point of government is to allow access to our representatives in requesting input into the creation of laws. This is the way our representative form of government is designed to work. A constituency was concerned about this law and sought a remedy. I don’t recall any Catholic Church alternative being presented, but the result was a remedy that preserved the underlying benefit to all Americans while preserving the narrow position of a minority. Leadership is doing the right thing and this is what real leadership looks like. I would have preferred the Administration battling over this point, but it is clear this solution is better for everyone.
                                      • kingmail53
                                      • San Diego
                                      It seems to me that this new "compromise" is unconscionable and unconstitutional.

                                      I own a small business (70 employees). I pay for their healthcare.

                                      The lie about this "compromise" is that insurance companies will pay for the portion of the healthcare that Catholic and evangelical church businesses will not. This is utter nonsense.

                                      Healthcare insurance companies are, effectively, guaranteed a 20% margin. They will pass the costs on to non-Catholic businesses.

                                      The effect of his law is the establishment of a religious-based tax on non-Catholic businesses. Essentially the establishment of Catholicism as the new, preferred U.S. religion for which all others must pay.

                                      I do not intend to pay these costs out of my pocket. I will pass these increased costs on to my employees and they will know why - because Obama chose to establish Catholicism as the new state religion.
                                        • MJR
                                        • Stony Brook, NY
                                        No religious issue here - just politics and money - central pillars of the Catholic Church since Rome collapsed. President Obama made a savvy decision to take the wind out of all the sanctimonious wind bags. What is really revealing is how steeped these Bishops are in right wing GOP politics.
                                          • SteveRR
                                          • undefined
                                          'So the White House Didn’t Cave on Birth Control, Right?'
                                          I laughed and laughed when I watched this on TV – your headline made me chuckle again.
                                          I can imagine Obama grabbing Sebelius and saying: 'you're gonna come with – this is all your damn fault' while Biden keeps muttering: ‘I told these idiots…’.
                                          And of course all the liberal commentators twisting in the wind trying to explain how this 'accommodation' was really a clever trap sprung on the right.
                                          The three stooges redux?? Except that Biden is Moe - use your imagination for the remaining two.
                                            • MJ
                                            • Northern California
                                            This whole controversy shows why we need a single payer healthcare system, supported by tax revenue, rather than the employment-based system we have now.

                                            If Obama had proposed and fought for that, instead of immediately taking it off the table, then we wouldn't be having this discussion now.

                                            Nor would there be any question about whether the "mandate" was constitutional.
                                              • Bill
                                              • New Hampshire
                                              Does anyone seriously believe the Bishops and the Republican attackers would have accepted this approach if it had been the original plan? Nope, what we are ending up with would have been the starting point, and still attacked ferociously.

                                              Republican politicians hate our President enough that they will oppose anything he favors.

                                              Any social issue that can be used to divide Americans -- however bad the policy results would be -- they jump to use it. But then, their rich patrons don't need improved insurance coverage. The lust for power is both disgusting and depressing.

                                              The revised approach is not perfect, but it is a huge improvement for millions of women who struggle to find the money for basic health care.

                                              Hey, maybe that's why Republicans -- well, the old men who control things and are running for President -- hate it so much!

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