A few weeks ago, we reported the wonderful news that The White House did not cave to religious groups who objected to the new rules in the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to offer no co-pay birth control in their health insurance plans.
Religious groups like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops objected to the new rules and at the time were given a one year grace period to allow for these religious organizations to transition into covering contraception in their health insurance plans. This grace period was agreed to in order to allow accommodation for employers who were not previously covering birth control. But the grace period was not negotiable, after a year religious institutions including Catholic hospitals, universities, and other institutions must offer free coverage to contraception to their employees.
Yesterday, senior advisor to the Obama re-election effort David Axelrod set off somewhat of a firestorm by implying that the Obama administration is flexible and willing to compromise with these religious groups who oppose the new rules.
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, David Axelrod, who serves as a top adviser to Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, said that the president would “look for a way” to address the concerns of the opposition and that, “[w]e certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms, so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions.”
This rather inartful quote created the impression that the administration was about to cave but everyone should be reassured by Press Secretary Jay Carney’s response to a related question a few hours later at yesterday’s White House Press Briefing:
ABC’s Jake Tapper: In terms of the health care rule on birth control — this rule doesn’t provide those health services for all women, as you said, though, right? Because there is a carve-out for houses of worship.
Press Secretary Jay Carney: Correct. There is an exemption for churches and houses of worship. And I think that the principle here is that churches and houses of worship, it’s an issue of hiring people of like faith, versus these large institutions, like universities and hospitals, where, whether you’re a nurse or a teacher, a professor, a student, a janitor, somebody in administration — you are going to have folks of all faiths who work for those large institutions. And therefore the President believes that they ought to be able to have access — those women ought to be able to have access to the same contraceptive services that other women will have access to.
ABC’s Jake Tapper: Is there a middle ground somewhere where perhaps some of these religious organizations that aren’t specifically houses of worship, but are Catholic or Jewish or Baptist hospitals, charities, of a smaller size could be — could receive the same exemption as the houses of worship? We’re talking about people who think that some methods of birth control are murder, are a sin, and the Obama administration is forcing them to be party to that. I mean, that’s the crux here.
Press Secretary Jay Carney: Well, let’s be clear — and first of all, we understand the religious concerns here. That is why this balance was sought. That’s why the process going forward includes a transition period where this discussion will continue to see if there can be ways found that ensure that women get access to these preventive services and that those services are covered — as they will be for all other women — and that also takes into account these religious concerns.
But let’s be clear, the rule does not require any individual or institution to provide contraception. It requires coverage for women who work there of different faiths, or of any faith.
President Obama has made it clear that he supports women’s access to contraception and it is a part of the health reform law for a reason. It’s clear that the Catholic groups are out of touch with actual Catholics who overwhelmingly support the new provision and access to contraception. The one year grace period was built in to allow for a smooth transition. Don’t be distracted by all the kicking and screaming religious groups are doing since last month’s announcement, seriously everyone…take a breath. The meaning of Axelrod’s quote may not have been crystal clear but the end result is the administration is holding firm to the original position: access to contraception for all women.