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Obama, seeking to quell birth control furor, shifts cost to insurers

President Obama, yielding to pressure from religious groups and others, withdrew a mandate that religiously affiliated institutions include free birth control in health insurance plans for employees. Now, insurers will pay.

By Staff writer / February 10, 2012

President Obama, accompanied by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announces the revamp of his contraception policy requiring religious institutions to fully pay for birth control, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012, at the White House.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP



In an effort to quell the furor among religious employers over mandatory birth-control coverage, President Obama announced a change to his administration’s policy Friday.

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Under the proposed new rule, religiously affiliated institutions will not be required to include free birth control in health insurance plans for female employees or to refer them to outside organizations for birth control. Instead, insurers will be required to provide contraception to all employees free of charge.

The administration had originally intended to spend a year working out an accommodation with religious groups. But the uproar condensed the process to a couple of weeks. The goal was “to find an equitable solution that protects religious liberty and ensures that every woman has access to the care that she needs,” Mr. Obama said in a statement at the White House.  

“Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services, no matter where they work. So that core principle remains,” Obama said. “But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company – not the hospital, not the charity – will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without copays and without hassles."

The president stated that the overall cost of health care is lower when women have access to contraceptive services.

The Obama administration has been under fire since last month, when it announced its birth control mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act. Churches themselves were already exempt, but religiously affiliated organizations such as charities, hospitals, and universities – which hire many people outside the faith – were not. With the Roman Catholic Church leading the charge, they objected vehemently to what they consider a violation of religious liberty. Some Democrats, including Vice President Joe Biden and former White House Chief of Staff William Daley, both Catholic, had reportedly registered concerns about the mandate.

The issue has also reverberated in the presidential campaign, reviving the culture war in a big way and highlighting the political challenge for top contender Mitt Romney among the Republican Party’s conservative base. After losing three contests last Tuesday to Rick Santorum, a vocal social conservative, Mr. Romney was already reeling.


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