Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, summed it up this way: “It’s the unstoppable force meets the immovable object.”
While challenges to the rule could take the form of legal and legislative assaults, the White House and the Obama re-election campaign are comfortable with the revised rule, believing most Americans — and particularly most women — are on their side.
White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew insisted Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “the right of women to all forms of preventative health care” was an unshakeable part of Obama’s health care overhaul. He noted groups such as the Catholic Health Association supported the revised mandate, which lets certain religious employers avoid providing or paying for contraception directly.
That’s not enough to appease the opposition:
— The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced it would pursue, “with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency,” a demand that the administration rescind the mandate for everyone “to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all.”
— Republican leaders in Congress stuck by their plans to overturn the requirement with legislation. The issue “will not go away until the administration backs down,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on CBS’ ”Face the Nation.”
— Three of Obama’s potential opponents in November — Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — thundered against funding birth control under Medicaid or through employer subsidies, calling it a radical overreach by government.
Romney, who failed to change a similar law when he was governor of Massachusetts, now says he would cut off taxpayer funding for contraception at community health centers and Planned Parenthood. Santorum called it an issue of “religious freedom — it is the government controlling your life.” And Gingrich said Obama is threatening to “declare war” on the Catholic Church.
The original rule exempted only churches, synagogues or mosques, not faith-based hospitals, schools and charities or private employers with conscience objections to contraception. On Friday, Obama said faith-based employers could defer to their insurance companies, but individual private employers remain under the mandate.
A Fox News poll of 1,100 registered voters, conducted Feb. 6-9 before Obama’s Friday announcement, found 61 percent of Americans say employer health plans should be required to cover birth control for women, while 34 percent disagreed. Among women, two-thirds approved of the requirement.