Political Animal


February 10, 2012 1:43 PM Did Obama Thread the Needle on Contraception Mandate?

By Ed Kilgore

Interesting how the media narrative can change really fast. This morning Obama was “boxed in” on his administration’s contraception mandate, caught between reproductive rights advocates (and regular folks via the polls) telling him to stand fast and a host of friends and enemies telling him he had to cave.

Yet the “compromise” he announced, which will require insurers to supply free contraceptives to employees of institutions refusing to offer such coverage on their own dime, got immediate endorsements from both the Catholic Health Association—representing the institutions whose employees were most affected by the whole issue—and Planned Parenthood.

No word just yet from the Bishops, who are already semi-on-record rejecting anything short of a mandate repeal, or at least an extremely broad “conscience clause” exception that includes non-institutional employers. Republican pols, of course, are all on record favoring not only repeal of the mandate, but of the entire health reform legislation that is the subtext for the whole dispute.

One thing is for certain-sure: Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the CHA, who made today’s positive statement about the mandate as modified, is going to come under a withering attack for “selling out” her church, just as she was when she endorsed health care reform back in 2010.

But make no mistake: it just got an awful lot harder for conservatives to frame the mandate (as now formulated) as an assault on religious liberty that will drive Catholics back into the catacombs—or even affect the operations of Catholic hospitals and charities. Indeed, it will look a lot like one of those interminable disputes between “modern” and “traditionalist” Catholics—with the latter backing a church hierarchy with a rather notably reduced credibility these days—in which Catholic lay opinion is decisively, if often quietly, with people like Sister Keehan who actually do the charitable work of the church.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Marcus on February 10, 2012 1:57 PM:

    I am not sure I have a full grasp of the compromise, but from what I think I understand, the trap seems to be that should Catholic employees of, say, Notre Dame, wish to avail themselves of the contraception coverage, they run the risk of losing their jobs. This assumes the employer will be aware of any coverage the employee opts for and that I have enough of an understanding here to make such an observation.

  • tombisson on February 10, 2012 1:58 PM:

    Not sure I understand the policy, but it sounds like you're saying that Boston College (for example) could refuse to include contraception as a health benefit to its employees but they would get it free anyway. I guess this takes the "decision" out of the hands of the Catholic institution and puts it back into the hands of the individual (where it belongs), but all taxpayers - including Catholics - pay for this through some Rube Goldberg funding mechanism. I guess it just illustrates what a crazy and complex health care system we have designed for silly political reasons.

  • c u n d gulag on February 10, 2012 1:59 PM:

    Nicely done!
    Now THAT was an example of 11th Dimensional chess!!!

    Obama looks like the one who's willing to compromise - and it leaves the right with egg on their faces.

    What do they argue now?
    That employers should be the ones to determine if their female employees can use/afford contraception?
    You go right ahead and run on that, asshats!

    And why would 'quicker-pecker-uppers' like Viagra still be readily available to every moron who wants to spill his seed, but not contraception to the women who are the targets of the horny, old limp-dicks?

    Jesus, if I was a 30 year-old trophy wife, I'm not sure I'd want to raise the child of some geriatric rich asshole. Except, of course, if that's the only way the money comes to me, is through the baby.

  • Mark-NC on February 10, 2012 2:00 PM:

    "it just got an awful lot harder for conservatives to frame the mandate"

    Nasty is the one thing Repugnant Ones are actually good at. I have "faith" that they will find a nasty twist to scream about.

  • arkie on February 10, 2012 2:00 PM:

    Will Chris Matthews and the other male Irish Catholics who appear on MSNBC change their positions or will they continue to grovel before the bishops?

  • TCinLA on February 10, 2012 2:03 PM:

    No word just yet from the Bishops

    Who are all too busy "horsing around" in the shower with their favorite altar boy.

  • Burr Deming on February 10, 2012 2:03 PM:

    Abortion is an issue in which it is not possible to have a position that does not carry some sort of absurdity. That is not true of contraception. This is a losing issue for Republicans.

  • Anonymous on February 10, 2012 2:04 PM:

    It is a winner IF there is 1) no additional costs for an individual and 2) there is no bar to their getting services.

    There is no constitutional support for a religious test for medical care and insurance. NONE. There is constitutional support for equal treatment of all under the law, without a religious text. To the extent that there is a religiously based bar to treatment based on where you choose to work, I have a problem. If Obama got around that and made the bishops look like idiots, super.

  • T2 on February 10, 2012 2:05 PM:

    it would seem that !GASP! , Obama has threaded the needle. Didn't need to, but well done (apparently) anyway.

  • j on February 10, 2012 2:11 PM:

    I guess I am trying to understand this situation, I know Obama is super smart and that he knew this controversy would come up. Perhaps he set it up so that the repubs would come out swinging and all the female votes would have no doubts what the republican position was.

    Gulag -glad to see you back, I had been wondering where
    you had gone, hope the family is well.

  • Danny on February 10, 2012 2:15 PM:

    See, we told you. And you could have worked that out for yourself if you'd had a little faith and exercised some impulse control rather than taking the gratuitous digs at fellow team-members that are a peculiar pathology of the post-1960s left.

  • c u n d gulag on February 10, 2012 2:21 PM:

    My Dad's really, really ill.
    I don't know how much time he has left - sadly, not much. And I've been super, super busy, tied-up with doctors, his biopsy, radiation treatment, food shopping and cooking for my parents, etc.

    I pop-in when I have a few moments. It helps take my mind off of things for a few moments.

    And thanks everyone, for your concern and kind thoughts.

  • Danny on February 10, 2012 2:23 PM:

    @c u n d gulag

    My best wishes to you, your dad and your family

  • James on February 10, 2012 2:35 PM:

    Obama's underlying principle on the issue has always been for women to have access to contraceptives as a basic element of free preventive care without cost or co-pays. The aim of that policy was not to punish churches or to throw contraception in his enemies' faces as a political issue. He, through his administration spox, have been clear and consistent about what the actual policy was, and unwavering in its description and commitment. His aim was not to strongarm churches or to win political points (though, admittedly, it's a winning issue for people who are ...not insane.) The administration KNEW ALL ALONG they would run into resistance from the Catholic church.

    Okay fine. You don't have to pay for it. The insurance companies will pay for it as a wellness benefit. Now what's your problem? From now on, it will be clear that the GOP and Club of the Red Beanies are actually against contraception itself. It's no longer "religious liberty." That bromide is off the table.

    Faced with an extended hand, the Church and the GOP have shown only a clenched fist. Everybody sees that.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on February 10, 2012 2:49 PM:

    Let me see the typical cost of a vaginal delivery without complications ranges from about $9,000 to $17,000 or more, depending on geographic location.
    Birth control : $30 to $50 a month or $360 to 600 a year ... gee I wonder which is better for the insurance companies bottom line?
    This is really a stupid country given the arguments. I have seen against it

  • jjm on February 10, 2012 2:52 PM:

    Need you even ask if Obama "threaded the needle"? What he did was MASTERFUL! Not only did he surely have this 'compromise' (which it isn't, really) in mind when he announced the policy, he knew that it would draw out the GOP candidates to pounce on it, thereby exposing their own nasty attitudes towards women and their reproductive freedom.

    That's a pure win-win, as far as I can see.

  • Ted Frier on February 10, 2012 2:57 PM:

    I don't want to say I told you so, but I told you so. I never thought Obama would do that much damage to himself picking a fight with the Catholic Church on an issue that Catholics themselves have been fighting with their own Church for 50 years.

    But there just seemed like so many opportunities to make Republicans look silly having a Defcon 1 level meltdown over taking the pill away from women.

    Also, empowering Rick Santorum against Mitt Romney by tossing him a ready-made red meat issue with his theocratic base didn't hurt either, as I hear alter boy Rick is now leading in the national polls.

    With the possibility of always being able to find a semantic face-saving compromise that excused Catholic bishops from being complicit in sin but also gave women access to affordable birth control, this always seemed like a controversy the White House welcomed despite all the hysterics.

  • azportsider on February 10, 2012 2:57 PM:

    Mark-NC: " Ihave 'faith' that they will find a nasty twist to scream about."

    Yes, well, if they can't find one they'll make one up. It's what GOPers do.

  • marycontrary on February 10, 2012 2:59 PM:

    I'll always take my chances siding with Sister Keehan over a bunch of nominally celibate old white men best known for obstructing justice and abetting child abuse standing around in their medieval constumes pompously condemning women for having sex.. The bishops are ridiculous. They should be reading letters about economic injustice and the congressional vendetta against the unemployed from every pulpit this weekend instead. But, oh, wait, that sounds like something Jesus would do.

  • lou on February 10, 2012 3:07 PM:

    So, the outcome is exactly the same, no? Women still get their free contraceptives. The insurance companies will raise premiums to pay for this benefit. The churches will claim they aren't paying for it. But make no mistake, everyone paying premiums will be paying something to offset any added costs. The insurance companies say they'll cover the cost, but they won't be giving it away for nothing. All that changes are the technicalities.

  • KarenJG on February 10, 2012 3:08 PM:

    I'm glad that the principle of "all women are entitled to have access to contraception as a basic health care" still stands. That's good, and right. However, as others have said, insurance companies will get the money to cover the cost of providing contraceptives some how. So, once again, a buncha wrinkly old white men get to coddle their so-called "consciences" in a warm nest of public money that the rest of us have to provide.

  • Robert on February 10, 2012 3:27 PM:

    The NYT just put up a story that guts any idea that the Catholic Bishops, including particularly Dolan, were concerned with the policy and not the politics:

    Catholic Institutions Reluctantly Comply With N.Y. Law on Contraceptives Coverage
    Published: February 10, 2012

    Although Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York has been leading the national fight against requiring Roman Catholic hospitals, universities and charities to cover birth control in their health insurance plans for employees and students, some Catholic institutions in his own diocese and others throughout New York State have for 10 years been complying with state regulations mandating precisely that coverage.

  • Sisyphus on February 10, 2012 3:28 PM:

    Actually, it's a first step toward a public option. Look carefully, and you see that this is a government mandated prescription that all insurance companies must provide, and that we, collectively, pay for to improve the quality of life across the board. Now we just need every other kooky religion out there with a medical beef to step up and complain. For once, we want to hear the crazies in the cult of L. Ron complain that they have a religious dispute regarding anti-depressants. And Jehovah's Witnesses complaining about blood transfusions. Each loony theocratic complaint brings a real public option more and more into being. It's almost an immaculate conception, half human, half religious mysticism, resulting in the birth of something to help bring salvation to the poor and downtrodden.

  • Danny on February 10, 2012 3:39 PM:

    So, once again, a buncha wrinkly old white men get to coddle their so-called "consciences" in a warm nest of public money that the rest of us have to provide.

    That's how "insurance" works, yes. We all pitch in to pay for eachother; everyone wins by being less dependent on the favor of lady luck.

    But you're wrong. It's not wrinkly white men we're pitching in for in this case - it's women on birth control. And the wrinkly white men are pitching in, too.

  • Danny on February 10, 2012 3:41 PM:

    Seriously, fuck you.

  • j on February 10, 2012 4:23 PM:

    Gulag - Our thoughts and prayers will be with you and your family, we all miss you when you are away, I know your Dad
    needs you right now and is blessed to have a son like you at this time.
    God bless

  • jdog on February 10, 2012 5:01 PM:

    Folks, let's be clear. We are talking about contraception here. Not abortion. Abortion is controversial. Contraception is, for the most part, not controversial. I find it hard to believe many people are going favor a position banning contraceptives, making them difficult to acquire, or forbidding the use of insurance to get them.

    And I find it hard to believe Republicans can get much traction from this issue.


  • E.Hatt-Swank on February 10, 2012 5:37 PM:

    Is this just another example of a minor issue getting blown up into a full-blown scandal by Beltway types who desperately need something new to fulminate about every day?

    Seriously... I grew up Catholic and for a while probably 90% of the people I knew were Catholic. I was fairly devoted to the Church. And I doubt that I ever met anyone other than the priests and nuns who gave a flip about what The Bishops thought about anything. Yes, I know that's just anecdotal, but I'd bet that for most people the Church hierarchy is nothing more than an antiquated joke. And they're getting all fussy about contraception, for Pete's sake! This is the 21st century, fellas. Are they trying to make themselves more irrelevant than they already were?

  • theAmericanist on February 10, 2012 5:54 PM:

    Since I put up with all the shit around here, just to note:

    "All they gotta do is re-write the rule so that religious institutions WILL have an exemption for contraception in their health care -- and the insurers who cover employees at conscience-exempted institutions will be required to provide it directly at low cost. That way, Quaker, it will be THEIR health care, and not a government-dictated violation of the First Amendment.

    Done. ("Always lower the stakes.")

    -February 7

  • SKM on February 10, 2012 8:05 PM:

    A place of worship is different from a place to hires people to work - school/hospital...the only thing they share is they all collect money from the public!

    And if the Catholic church was so concerned about people-health and well-being - then why aren't they doing something about the abuses in Central America? I guess I have to go on this rant again http://killercoke.org there are school children that are working in the Sugar Cane fields that are getting cuts from the machetes used to chop the canes - these kids are missing up to a month or more of school in order to work these fields. The Catholic church is the biggest and populous religion in Latin America, no?

    As far as First Amendment, I believe it has anything to do with the First Amendment. I believe, again, the GOP and faith-based institutions are being used to chip away at all American rights for the corporations. The GOP wants a following for a particular bill or law, all they do is head to the churches, then they can say all Americans want the same.

    Another example I will use, I have a friend that was heavy into the Tea Party ideology, hardcore FOX News viewer, complaining about taxes and not paying medical/unemployment...to people - well, this friend didn't have medical insurance, have just recently needed major surgeries and is at a COUNTY (taxpayer funded) hospital - with no insurance, no FOR PROFIT medical institution would bother - oh, and this friend has been in the hospital almost a month. Even if the friend had insurance, the hospital would probably not have approved such stay/surgeries if it affected the bottom line by saying it was not medically necessary/wasn't a covered benefits...

  • SYSPROG on February 10, 2012 8:12 PM:

    arkie ? That was rhetorical right? Seriously tho. I think all the 'haters' have just been played. They ask the question 'Why didn't the WH do this three weeks ago?' and then they answer the question in their own mind and say 'the WH flubbed the messaging!' and then go on to tout how smart THEY all are. ALWAYS denigrating the intelligence in the WH with their own 'pundit' smarts. I think the White House just spent three weeks showing the intransigence of the Catholic Church, the side taking of the GOP and the bloggers self satisfaction with their OWN views. And they said he wouldn't be a 'teaching President'. I think the President just got exactly what he wanted.

  • SKM on February 10, 2012 8:20 PM:

    Speaking of the constitution, then why isn't the GOP elected officials looking out for the protections of their constituents? These GOP elected officials are supposed to be representing the people, and the people who elected/voted them into office.

    On another note, I will be keeping a look out for Marco Rubio of Florida. This senator allegedly listed his networth in 2009 of less than $8,700.00 I'm just waiting to see when he will be listed as a MILLIONAIRE.

  • Anonymous on February 10, 2012 10:59 PM:


    Room full of monkeys, typewriter, Shakespeare.

  • cmdicely on February 11, 2012 3:55 AM:

    And if the Catholic church was so concerned about people-health and well-being - then why aren't they doing something about the abuses in Central America?

    The Catholic Church is very involved in addressing abuses in Latin America, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is very much engaged on this issue, and urging the government to do more.

  • steve on February 11, 2012 10:43 AM:

    Its the morning after pill -- part contraception, part abortion depending on your view. The Church is still fighting that battle. Their conscience argument is so that providers can opt against giving women this medication. The Church wants to deal in abstractions to hide their real concerns. God help them.