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January 20, 2012 1:55 PM Obama’s correct call on contraception coverage

By Steve Benen

In August, the Obama administration announced some very good news: thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and following the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, contraception would be covered by insurance plans as preventive care.

The health care reform law already requires insurers to cover “preventive health services” for free, but the announcement was part of a process that defines what those services will include. According to Health and Human Services, insurers would be required to cover not only contraception, but also HPV testing, breastfeeding support and supplies, and domestic violence screening and counseling.

The news generated an intense lobbying campaign from Roman Catholic bishops and other religious leaders, pushing the administration to curtail the scope of the coverage. As of November, there was a fair amount of talk that Obama’s team might cave on this.

I’m pleased to report that didn’t happen. Religious-affiliated hospitals got a delay, but the administration denied their push for an exemption.

Most healthcare plans will be required to cover birth control without charging co-pays or deductibles starting Aug. 1, the Obama administration announced Friday.

The final regulation retains the approach federal health officials proposed last summer, despite the deluge of complaints from religious groups and congressional Republicans that has poured in since then. Churches, synagogues and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, but religious-affiliated hospitals and universities only get a one-year delay and must comply by Aug. 1, 2013.

“This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”

The Obama administration deserves a lot of credit for doing the right thing, especially given the lobbying push. Jessica Arons, the director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress, called this move “a huge victory for women’s health.” She wasn’t the only one praising the decision.

“Birth control is not just basic health care for women, it is an economic concern,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “This common sense decision means that millions of women, who would otherwise pay $15 to $50 a month, will have access to affordable birth control, helping them save hundreds of dollars each year.”

And Nancy Keegan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, praised the administration for standing “firm against intensive lobbying efforts from anti-birth-control organizations trying to expand the refusal option even further to allow organizations and corporations to deny their employees contraceptive coverage.”

“As a result, millions will get access to contraception — and they will not have to ask their bosses for permission,” she said.

This breakthrough will very likely be reversed if President Obama loses in November, but for now, it’s a terrific progressive victory.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Mark-NC on January 20, 2012 1:59 PM:

    I'm getting more comfortable with Obama every day.

    It seems that he has finally realized that you can't do the bipartisan thing with people that want to burn you alive, and now he's making decisions based on merit.

    Great for the country!

  • Hedda Peraz on January 20, 2012 2:11 PM:

    Conservative birth control is free.
    Just say "No!", Nancy Reagan told us gals; keep you pants on before marriage.

    (That she was 5 months pregnant when she married Ronnie is just another example of the Ruling Class practicing, "do as I say, not do as I do.")

  • K in VA on January 20, 2012 2:14 PM:

    I had been so sure Obama would cave on this. And I'm so damned happy I was wrong!

  • 57andFemale on January 20, 2012 2:17 PM:

    I really find it hi-larious that the Right thinks government is fine for crawling into our private lives and our bedrooms but there's something wrong with actually expecting a route for the XL pipeline and a review of its potential damage be done in the name of 'freedom'.

    Is the Catholic church so afraid that its members will not follow their dictates on their own? Is anyone being forced to use contraception? Why do you have so little faith in your followers?

    Effing hypocrites, all of you.

  • Not signing this one, either... on January 20, 2012 2:24 PM:

    In fairness, the sex-partners of Catholic priests and bishops don't have to worry about birth control because 9-year-old boys don't get knocked up.

  • Not signing this one, either... on January 20, 2012 2:26 PM:

    In fairness, the sex-partners of Catholic priests and bishops don't have to worry about birth control because 9-year-old boys don't get knocked up.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on January 20, 2012 2:27 PM:

    Was a time when pro life people were all about birth control and not having unwanted babies.
    The fact now that there is a Jihad against Planned Parenthood , who have probably done more than any pro life group to prevent abortions via birth control is beyond comprehension.
    Anyone see 30 Rock last night?
    Stupid has it's own movement.

  • Mitch on January 20, 2012 2:34 PM:

    @Mark-NC

    I am becoming more and more convinced that Obama's "addiction" to bipartisanship was was ploy designed to make the Republicans overreach. Now they cannot do anything unless it is EXTREMELY to the Right. They have boxed themselves into an ideological corner.

    However, I still would have rather preferred more Progressive arguments throughout his first term. If only because few non-political junkes understand how far to the right the nation has shifted, and how much that shift has hurt us. Yeah, the country is better off than it was in 2008-2009; but it's far too easy for people to say, "Well the Dems haven't done enough to help us out."

    WE know better, those of us who have watched the Republicans obstruct with zealous devotion. But your average American, who doesn't pay attention to politics at all? They may not see all of the good Obama has done, or the bad that the Repugs have forced on us. Hell, a lot of Dems seem to think Obama is little more than GOP-lite.

    Thankfully, over the past few months, he has begun putting his foot down for Progressive principles. Some people will cynically say that it's only due to the election. But I prefer to have some faith in the man. Even when I have disagreed with him (most notably during the Debt Ceiling debacle) I always liked him.

    I'm starting to think that it's all that 11th dimensional chess Obama is so fond of. He began his first term under a slew of garbage; kenyan-islamofascist-socialist-unAmerican-communist scum. The rise of the Tea Party (taking advantage of the Bush Recession at it's worst in '09 & '10) also put a lot of pressure on him. At the time, I wanted him to fight more. But now, I don't know.

    Now it seems that the country is getting sick of the Repug party-line. All they have is "Cut more taxes on the rich! Abolish all government agencies! Abortion is evil! Gays are even worse! Drill, baby, drill!"

    I don't think that platform is going to sustain them in the future. It's very possible that Obama has successfully pulled the old rope-a-dope. Now the GOP has people like Newt spouting an end to child labor laws, Romney championing the 1% (which is VERY unpopular, even among Repug voters) and Santorum of the American Taliban.

    Now, with actions like this, Obama is taking a stand for Progressivism. He's going to give the nation a vision that is distinctly different from the Repug pluto-theocracy. I think he's going to win big this November, and I hope that he's able to keep going with this momentum and help lead the cause of Progressivism. Score one for the home team, I say. Go, Obama!

    Captch: Celery Conscious

    Oh, no, I will never be able to eat it again!

  • jjm on January 20, 2012 2:47 PM:

    To @Mitch: Amen.

    I hope he'll take a cue from Gov. Brown's fantastic state of the state speech for tone, attitude and attention to creative thinking about the future.

  • regina schrambling on January 20, 2012 2:47 PM:

    A huge victory for Obama, women and sanity. But the headline over to the NYT right now?

    "Religious groups get delay on contraceptive rule"

    Which will be all too many people see and write it off as more "Obama fail."

  • Mark-NC on January 20, 2012 2:48 PM:

    @ Mitch

    I'd love to believe that Obama (or ANYBODY) is that clever. I've never seen it. I think he actually believed that if he added Republicans to his cabinet, made moderates the norm in his administration, and included Republicans in decisions - he could actually change Washington for the better.

    However, you really can't deal with terrorists. He gave them lots of input and added their requests to bills - and in return they spit in his face, called him a Commie, and went on Fake News to lie that he has shut them out.

    Glad to see that he has learned a valuable lesson!

  • Goldilocks on January 20, 2012 2:59 PM:

    @57andFemale, you've asked the core question:
    Is anyone being forced to use contraception?

    May we push this further?

    Is anyone being forced to have an abortion?

    Is anyone being forced to marry a partner of the same sex?

    Is anyone being forced to get married to anyone?

    Is anyone being forced to take drugs?

    Is anyone being forced to use pornography?

    Is anyone being forced to pay for sex with another person?

    You get the idea. It turns the repressive demands of these authoritarian, holier-than-thou fanatics on its head. I'm sure there are other instances missing from the list, but should this not be the default question the "do as I say", small (= big) government types should be required to answer?

    [captcha: served xposition. Sometimes it has its uses.]

  • Anonymous on January 20, 2012 3:18 PM:

    And, @Mitch, I'm with you.

    I've thought this all along. He's shrewd (not "screwed", shrewd). Personally, I think he's one of the greatest Presidents America has had.

    Of course, it's possible he was just learning during the first couple of years but, for goodness sake, give the guy a break. Now we'll see. If he sustains this anti-bipartisanship stance through the rest of the year he'll surely win big time.

    Plan-B? That was his worst flub so far.

  • Ted Frier on January 20, 2012 3:19 PM:

    What the Catholic bishops are trying to do is exploit the peculiar features of the American social compact in order to impose Catholic doctrine regarding contraceptive use on both Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and doing so in the name of religious "freedom."

    Whereas most other Western governments provide health services directly to their citizens or pay doctors and hospitals through a single-payer public insurance program, most Americans get their health care coverage through their employers. This feature of American social policy gives the bishops a powerful blunt instrument for enforcing religious orthodoxy.

    Unlike the European social democracies with their clear divisions between public and private sectors, those divisions get muddled in America where public health, retirement and other services are provided through employer-based partnerships between the public and private sectors, reflecting historic American antagonisms against bureaucracy and state power.

    As employers who run schools, universities, hospitals and charitable organizations that employ hundreds of thousands of lay workers (both Catholic and non), in addition to the religious orders themselves, the Catholic Church is trying to use its obligations to provide health insurance to its employees as leverage to impose the Church's own, antiquated, beliefs about contraception on the millions who work for Catholic-run social service agencies or received services from them.

    Therefore, conservative groups opposed to a direct national health care system or even a public option may want to pull their ideological soul mates among the Catholic bishops aside and urge them to knock off the rukus they're raising over insurance coverage for birth control so as not to provoke a popular uprising to demand public health coverage.

  • chi res on January 20, 2012 3:22 PM:

    Is anyone being forced to take drugs?

    Is anyone being forced to use pornography?

    Is anyone being forced to pay for sex with another person?

    I'm pretty sure it's only the republican politicians who get caught with their pants down or pills in their mouth and then proceed to act like total victims.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on January 20, 2012 3:22 PM:

    >> This breakthrough will very likely be reversed if President Obama loses in November

    Can we just repeat this over and over and over until we get through the thick heads of the stay-at-home "He's not exactly the progressive messiah I expected" Democrats and independents? I feel like, even though this election is between Obama and the rabid rightwing nightmare, people are still treating it as Obama v. their idealized hopes for Obama.

  • chi res on January 20, 2012 3:28 PM:

    get through the thick heads of the stay-at-home "He's not exactly the progressive messiah I expected" Democrats

    Not until I get my Magic Pony, goddammit!

  • Stevo on January 20, 2012 3:36 PM:

    Is this still "a teriffic progressive victory" if Catholic institutions respond by eliminating employee health coverage?

  • cmdicely on January 20, 2012 5:00 PM:

    Therefore, conservative groups opposed to a direct national health care system or even a public option may want to pull their ideological soul mates among the Catholic bishops aside and urge them to knock off the rukus they're raising over insurance coverage for birth control so as not to provoke a popular uprising to demand public health coverage.

    You may be mistaken in assuming that "conservative groups opposed to a direct national health care system or even a public option" have "ideological soul mates among the Catholic bishops" (or, at least, a sufficient base of such "soul mates" to substantially direct the course of the policy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on health care policy issues.)

    While the USCCB has consistently been opposed to federal expenditures on procedures that the Conference finds to be universally morally illicit under Catholic teaching, or restrictions on employers or providers (particularly, on employers or providers directly associated with the Catholic Church and other religious groups) which would require them to secure coverage for or directly provide such procedures, the USCCB has equally (and, often, in the same statements and advocacy campaigns) supported efforts to extend publicly-assured access to health care.

    Its worth noting that while the USCCB opposes elements of the Health Care Reform law in the form it was passed, it expressly seeks to reform the law in the areas that trouble it, and expressly has said that one of the reasons it wants those reforms is to disarm groups that would use the some of the same issues in the law that the USCCB has trouble with to justify total repeal (this appears mostly directed at the conservative groups you are talking about, since it is those groups on the Right that are seeking to repeal "Obamacare.")

    Its also worth noting that, in addition to the lack of a restriction on funding for abortion and rules underlying the recent regulatory action regarding contraception, that the USCCB seeks changes to the health care law because, as the law is currently, "many immigrant workers and their families could be left worse off since they will not be allowed to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges to be created, even if they use their own money."

    The USCCB finds that "The consistent moral criteria insisted upon by the bishops included expanding access to quality health care and the elements of the health care reform measure signed into law advanced this essential goal. These elements and provisions of the new law should be maintained and strengthened where possible in the implementation process."

    (Quotes above from the USCCB "Hill Notes" on Health Care Reform from February 11, 2011.)

    It is further worth noting that the USCCB opposed the recent Republican effort to eliminate State Medicaid and CHIP maintenance of effort requirements (the "State Flexibility Act" introduced last year as H.R. 1683 and S. 868.)

    The area of overlap between the USCCB's ideological interests on health care reform and those of the opponents of publicly-paid-for health care on the political Right are fairly narrow. Outside of abortion and contraception, the two groups are essentially opposed to each other.

  • theAmericanist on January 20, 2012 6:52 PM:

    From "While the.." to, three grafs later, "'even if they use their own money", that's nearly 300 words in only three sentences.

    And just one, defensive and incomplete 'thought'.

    Even for Dice, that's impressive.

  • cmdicely on January 20, 2012 7:03 PM:

    From "While the.." to, three grafs later, "'even if they use their own money", that's nearly 300 words in only three sentences.

    Calling 256 words "amost 300 words" is something of an exaggeration.

    And just one, defensive and incomplete 'thought'.

    I don't see how its "defensive". It states facts directly relevant to the challenge to the implied premise of the post it responds to. Its "incomplete" only insofar as it is a partial extract of the whole post which is a work with a common thesis (introduced in the first paragraph and summarized in the last); each paragraph in between presents a complete point supporting that broader thesis.

    Even for Dice, that's impressive.

    Neither having, within a long post, 3 consecutive single-sentence paragraphs averaging 85.33... words each nor having three sentences which, extracted from the larger context of which they are a part, incompletely express the thesis of that larger context, are particularly unusual for me.

    Perhaps you'd care to make a substantive comment rather than personal sniping next time?

  • theAmericanist on January 20, 2012 8:54 PM:

    LOL -- I keep noting, Dice, that it is an act of charity for me to conduct your (ever so reluctant) education in public.

    Your point, such as it was, is defensive in that you are trying to assert that the Bishops aren't really allies of the pro-life Right. You do know what "defensive" means, right?

    What you cite as evidence (which you doubtless confuse with reasoning) is that because while the Bishops are pro-life, they also support (ineffectively) all kinds of other stuff, like health care for foreigners living in the US illegally. When you concede someone's central point (in this case, that the Bishops are like the pro-life Right) and then attempt to change the subject to something else (hey, look, over there -- amnesty!), that's defensive, by definition.

    And as for your ability to comment substantively (or to be worthy of a response in kind), I merely observe that you wrote: "Neither having, within a long post, 3 consecutive single-sentence paragraphs averaging 85.33... words each nor having three sentences which, extracted from the larger context of which they are a part, incompletely express the thesis of that larger context, are particularly unusual for me."

    You DO realize you're making a fool of yourself again? I mean "words each nor having three sentences which, extracted from the larger context of which they are a part, incompletely express...." is worse than even what I thought you were capable of.

    Speaking as an editor, I don't see how even E.B. White could turn that into a coherent thought.

  • Doug on January 20, 2012 9:21 PM:

    theAmericanist, how's this:
    You lost.
    A simple declarative sentence that has the added value of being completely factual.

  • Sabreen60 on January 20, 2012 9:30 PM:

    Great commentary on Ed's show. I hope to see you more often on other political shows. We need your critical thinking and truth telling about the Obama administration

  • Alli on January 21, 2012 8:50 AM:

    To a few commenters above:

    THERE IS NO ADDICTION TO BIPARTISANSHIP!! Obama works with Republicans because HE HAS NO CHOICE! THEY ARE HIS CO-WORKERS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! What's he supposed to do? pull votes out of his ass? Sit and do nothing for 3 years so voters can call him a useless bipartisan hack AKA left wing er?

    Stop talking as if Obama's caught on to something you all knew along. You ain't smarter than he is and you sure as hell aren't more aware of his opponents intentions than you are. How the hell do people who read 2nd and 3rd hand accounts of events on capitol hill think they know more of what's going on in political circles than the people who actually work there?

  • theAmericanist on January 21, 2012 10:30 AM:

    (snicker) Doug, try to keep up.

    The single most important thing said in either the thread or the original post is Stevo's rhetorical question: will this still be a progressive victory if Catholic institutions go out of business because they can no longer attract and keep employees, since they can no longer offer health insurance?

    One counter is: That's nonsense! Of course Catholic institutions are just employers like any other, so they will just accept defeat (as Doug advises).

    The weakness of that argument lies in misunderstanding Roman Catholicism. As a matter of faith and doctrine -- the core of the religion itself -- it's authoritarian. So for a Catholic institution to remain Catholic, it cannot contradict Catholic doctrine.

    Another counter: That misunderstands conscience! No individual is being forced to use contraception. If a Catholic institution as an employer is required to pay for contraception in their health insurance, it does not contradict Catholic doctrine because the employees of that Catholic institution are not being forced to use contraception.

    That argument is crippled by the Catholic character of the employers we're talking about: it is simply a fact that if they are forced to choose between remaining Catholic (no paying for contraception) and obeying the new law, they will close. (There is yet another argument that insists they can just go ahead and change Catholic doctrine, but since this is a definitive interference of government with religion, progressives don't like to face up to what they're up to.)

    What Dice was trying to do (badly), was to observe that American Catholics (various called Reagan Democrats, white ethnics, etc.) are not uniformly on the Right, politically. They -- we, in some definitions -- aren't disproportionately pro-life, either, much less opposed to lawful contraception.

    It's probably a bit more important that what might be understood as a problem has now become a conflict. What makes something a problem, after all, is that it can be solved -- nobody is forced to work for a Catholic institution, after all. So it is not an obvious matter of principle that health insurance offered by a Catholic institution, as an employer, must contradict Catholic doctrine.

    What makes a conflict is that it can NOT be resolved -- one side has to lose, as Doug so generously observed.

    When Catholic Charities (and every Catholic school?) has to close, this may not look like such a victory.

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