On a conference call with reporters just now, senior Obama administration officials announced the outlines of the “accommodation” the White House has settled on with regard to the contraception controversy.
The gist is that women who work for religious institutions that object to offering birth control coverage will get contraception for free, directly from their insurers. The institutions won’t have to pay for it. The White House argues that this preserves both the “liberty” of those institutions and the core, inviolate principle that all women will have equal access to birth control, no matter where they work.
Insurers “will be required to reach out directly and offer them contraception coverage, free of charge,” one senior administration official says. “All women will still have acess to preventive care, and that includes contraceptive sevices, no matter where they work.”
More on the policy implications of this in a bit, but for now, the politics.
Obviously you can argue over whether the administration should have reached any accommodation at all, and the politics of this, as Kevin Drum notes, could still prove a morass for the administration. Some on the left will see the administration’s efforts to appease the U.S. Conference of Bishops as unnecessary appeasment. Meanwhile, it seems all but certain that the Conference of Bishops, which had previously insisted that the rule be scrapped altogher, will not be mollified in the slightest, and Republican officials and the 2012 GOP candidates will still continue attacking the Obama administration over this, pushing not only the “war on religion” line but also the subtext, i.e., that Obama is forever looking to expand the reach of government.
But the Obama team is betting that any further objections to this policy will unmask opponents primarily as hidebound foes of birth control at any costs, a politically difficult position to sustain, rather than as defenders of religious liberty. Indeed, this looks like an effort to reframe the debate to Obama’s advantage: If Team Obama has its way, the argument will now be about whether all women should have access to contraception, and not about whether these institutions are having their religious freedom impinged upon.
Will it work? We’ll see, but it’s an interesting move. And the policy implications will now get hashed out.
UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women. She says she’s optimistic that the change the White House outlined will preserve full access to birth control for the women affected by it, though she says implementation will have to be watched closely.
“The president is making a statement that women are entitled to have birth control,” O’Neill says. “Birth control is an essential part of health care for women, and the president is standing strong for that policy.“
She said that the way to judge the policy is to see if it the experience of a woman who work for religious organizations remains as follows: “She goes to the doctor, gets her prescription, goes to the CVS, gets it filled, and the doctor and the prescription are covered by insurance.”
This experience, O’Neill says, will have to be “seamless.” She added that the administration had assured her that the policy will preserve this experience, and while she said implementation bears watching, she’s optimistic that it will work.
UPDATE II: Catholics United comes out for the plan, and calls on the bishops to support it.