Obama Makes ‘Accommodation’ To Religious Groups Regarding Birth Control Policy
President Barack Obama on Friday announced that the government would not require faith-based schools, charities and hospitals to provide birth control as part of their employees’ health care coverage — a reversal of a controversial policy that drew criticism from religious leaders and even divided members of his own party.
According to Brian Montopoli of CBS News, senior members of the Obama administration called the policy change an “accommodation,” and under the revised policy, female employees of these institutions will still have access to contraceptives and birth control coverage at no cost — only it will be the insurance company covering the employee and not the religious organization itself that will be asked to cover the costs.
“Speaking in the White House briefing room, the president said the decision protects religious liberty while ensuring that ‘women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where they work,’” Montopoli said. “The president said that religious liberty is an ‘unalienable right as enshrined in our Constitution,’ adding: ‘As a citizen, and as a Christian, I cherish this right.’”
Shortly before the President’s announcement, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the White House had stated that they were trying to find a way that women would be able to have free access to contraceptives without forcing religious employers to pay for them directly.
The AP added that the debate over the issue had “caused an election-year furor since it was announced last month,” and that on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden told a Cincinnati radio station that he was “determined to see that this gets worked out and I believe we can work it out.” Biden also said that there had been a “lot of misunderstanding” about the regulation, but insisted that there would be a “significant attempt to work this out.”
Timothy Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) — one of the strongest opponents of the proposed rule — said that Friday’s decision “to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction.”
“While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them,” Dolan added in a statement. “We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans´ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”
Likewise, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards told CBS News that the organization supported Obama’s decision. In a statement published to Planned Parenthood’s website, Richards said, “In the face of a misleading and outrageous assault on women´s health, the Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work.”
“We believe the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman´s ability to access these critical birth control benefits,” she added. “However we will be vigilant in holding the administration and the institutions accountable for a rigorous, fair and consistent implementation of the policy, which does not compromise the essential principles of access to care“¦ The individual rights and liberties of all women and all employees in accessing basic preventive health care is our fundamental concern.”
Richards added that Planned Parenthood believed that any institution that serves the public at large and receives taxpayer dollars, regardless of religious affiliation, “should be required to follow the same rules as everyone else, including providing birth control coverage and information.”
Before Friday’s announcement, the President’s policy drew mixed reaction from members of his own party.
According to AP reporter Donna Cassata, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin called it “unacceptable” and “un-American,” while Bob Casey of Pennsylvania had reportedly pleased with the White House to “correct this decision which will erode the conscience rights” that had been protected for decades.
On the other side, Cassata said that California Senator Barbara Boxer thanked the President for the policy, saying that “the women of America“¦ deserve to have access to free preventive care through their health insurance,” and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, also representing California, had promised what the AP referred to as “a fierce debate on women’s rights if Republicans tried to repeal the policy.”
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, had vowed to work to repeal the requirement, calling it an “attack on religious freedom” and saying that Congress would “approach this matter fairly and deliberately, through regular order and the appropriate legislative channels,” UPI reported on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) — a Catholic broadcasting station based in Irondale, Alabama — filed a lawsuit over the policy, ABC News reporter Ariane de Vogue said. It was one of three cases challenging the contraception rule “on the grounds that it violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution,” de Vogue added.
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