Obama's Birth Control Compromise Is Actually Pretty Good

Remember when we said the birth control compromise Obama would announce today for religious employees wouldn't satisfy anyone? Well, we are actually satisfied! (Mostly, anyhow.)

The White House has released the details of the compromise — as reported earlier, religious organizations will not have to pay for contraceptive coverage for their employees. But women won't have to pay for their birth control either. Instead, "insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge." The press release continues,

Covering contraception saves money for insurance companies by keeping women healthy and preventing spending on other health services. For example, there was no increase in premiums when contraception was added to the Federal Employees Health Benefit System and required of non-religious employers in Hawaii. One study found that covering contraception lowered premiums by 10 percent or more.

In his announcement today, Obama said, "Religious liberty will be protected and a law that requires free preventative care will not discriminate against women." He added, "I understand some folks in Washington want to treat this as another political wedge issue. But it shouldn't be. I certainly never saw it that way. This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been sorting through some very complicated questions."

A couple of pro-choice organizations have voiced cautious support for the new plan. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said in a statement,

In the face of a misleading and outrageous assault on women's health, the Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work.

We believe the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman's ability to access these critical birth control benefits.

However, she added, "Planned Parenthood continues to believe that those institutions who serve the broad public, employ the broad public, and receive taxpayer dollars, should be required to follow the same rules as everyone else, including providing birth control coverage and information." And NARAL President Nancy Keenan said,

Today's announcement makes it clear that President Obama is firmly committed to protecting women's health. Unfortunately, some opponents of contraception may not be satisfied. These groups and their allies in Congress want to take away contraceptive coverage from nurses, janitors, administrative staff, and college instructors — and that agenda is out of touch with our country's values and priorities. We will continue to fight on every front to support women's access to birth control as politicians in Washington, D.C. try to take it away.

She's right — some conservatives are unsatisfied with the compromise. In advance of the official announcement, Katie Pavlich of TownHall.com wrote,

Later today President Obama is expected to announce a "compromise" that allows religious employers to opt out of paying for providing birth control to women, but will still be required to provide contraception. What this means is, insurance companies will pick up the tab for contraception, but religious employers are still required to provide contraception through insurance plans to their employees, despite the move being against religious beliefs.

Pavlich seems to be advocating for a system where religious groups could actually bar all their employees from taking birth control, regardless of who pays for it. Which isn't totally surprising, since Rick Santorum believes no insurance should cover birth control (because it's so cheap, apparently), and also that it's evil. Bottom line: Obama's announcement today is unlikely to end the birth control fight, but at least he didn't throw women under the bus.

Update: A group of Catholic and Protestant leaders, including professors at religious universities Pepperdine and Fordham, and several officials with the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, have issued a statement supporting the decision:

Today the Obama administration announced an important regulation that will protect the conscience rights of religious organizations and ensure that all women have access to contraception without a co-payment. We applaud the White House for listening carefully to the concerns raised by religious leaders on an issue that has provoked heated and often misinformed debate. This ruling is a major victory for religious liberty and women's health. President Obama has demonstrated that these core values do not have to be in conflict.

Specifically, this new regulation guarantees that no religiously affiliated institution will have to pay for services that violate its moral beliefs or even refer employees for this coverage. Instead, if a woman's employer is an objecting university, hospital or other religious institution, her insurer will be required to offer her coverage at no cost. This is a sensible, common-ground solution.

In recent days, sound bites and divisive rhetoric have too often pitted the faith community against sound science and public health. We are encouraged that the Obama administration has developed a substantive solution that addresses the concerns of the many constituencies involved. We look forward to bringing the same level of passion displayed in this debate to other pressing moral issues that face our nation.

FACT SHEET: Women's Preventive Services and Religious Institutions [White House]
Santorum: Birth Control Is Not Something ‘You Need Insurance For' Because It Costs ‘Just A Few Dollars' [ThinkProgress]
Obama: Birth control policy meets everyone's needs [AP]