Balancing individual liberty vs. public health in the latest battle over women’s bodies.
Obama Acts to Calm Furor on Birth Control Coverage Rule
By HELENE COOPER
Published: February 10, 2012
WASHINGTON — President Obama, seeking to dampen a runaway political furor over birth control and religious liberty, unveiled a plan on Friday that is meant to calm the right’s ire about a new administration rule that would require health insurance plans — including those offered by Roman Catholic hospitals, universities and charities — to provide free birth control to female employees.
Casting himself as both “a citizen and a Christian” trying to balance individual liberty versus public health, Mr. Obama announced what administration officials called 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 would require that insurance companies, and not religious institutions, offer contraceptive coverage at no cost.
“Religious liberty will be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women,” Mr. Obama told reporters in the White House briefing room. He said the “political football” his foes were making of the new rule prompted him to speed up work on a solution. “It became clear that spending months hammering a solution was not going to be an option.”
But administration officials also acknowledged that the revision announced Friday would most likely fail to mollify the Catholic bishops who have waged war against the rule or, for that matter, Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail who have joined the fight. At most, the compromise could potentially help the president 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.