“For women, obviously birth control is not a religious topic: it’s a health topic, and 99 percent of women in America use it. And at Planned Parenthood, we provide birth control to millions of women every single year, so yeah — I think they’re kind of mystified by what the ‘controversy’ is all about.
…I think we’re seeing in this presidential primary this sort of, like, race to the bottom, where every presidential candidate on the Republican side is trying to say ‘I would be absolutely the worst for women.’”
– CECILE RICHARDS, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, on The Daily Show
The Obama administration, seeking to rein in a runaway political furor over birth control and religious liberty, is set to announce a possible compromise on Friday that is meant to calm ire from the right about a new administration rule that would require health insurance plans — including those offered by Roman Catholic hospitals, universities and charities — to offer free birth control to female employees.
Administration officials called the expected announcement an “accommodation” that they said sought to demonstrate respect for religious beliefs. It will be similar to the path taken in several other states — particularly Hawaii — that have similar rules.
But administration officials also acknowledged that it would likely not mollify the Catholic bishops who have waged war against the rule or, for that matter, Congressional Republicans and candidates on the presidential campaign trail who have joined the fight. At most, the compromise could potentially help President Obama shore up support among wavering Democrats, who have also expressed doubt about the rule, along with more liberal religious organizations and charities, who oppose the rule but not as vehemently as the Catholic leadership.
Emulating Hawaii, where the rule is in effect, would mean that employees at religious institutions that do not offer free contraception in the health insurance plan can get birth control through side benefits, which the employees nominally pay for but which often end up being free.”
The Obama administration is examining whether the new health care law can be used to require insurance plans to offer contraceptives and other family planning services to women free of charge.
Such a requirement could remove cost as a barrier to birth control, a longtime goal of advocates for women’s rights and experts on women’s health. But it is likely to reignite debate over the federal role in health care, especially reproductive health, at a time when Republicans in Congress have vowed to repeal the law or dismantle it piece by piece. It is also raising objections from the Roman Catholic Church and is expected to generate a robust debate about privacy.
The law says insurers must cover “preventive health services” and cannot charge for them. The administration has asked a panel of outside experts to help identify the specific preventive services that must be covered for women.
Administration officials said they expected the list to include contraception and family planning because a large body of scientific evidence showed the effectiveness of those services. But the officials said they preferred to have the panel of independent experts make the initial recommendations so the public would see them as based on science, not politics.
Many obstetricians, gynecologists, pediatricians and public health experts have called for coverage of family planning services, including contraceptives, without co-payments, deductibles or other cost-sharing requirements.