White House Revises Birth Control Coverage Policy

On Friday, President Obama offered an accommodation to critics of his policy requiring employers to provide health insurance coverage that includes prescription contraceptives.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. The Obama administration has agreed to revise its controversial policy on birth control. That's after almost two weeks of heated criticism from the Catholic Church and elsewhere. Catholic hospitals and universities with a religious objection to birth control will no longer have to provide that insurance coverage directly. In a moment, we'll hear what church leaders think about the new policy, but first here's NPR's Scott Horsley on the path that brought us to today's announcement.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The original birth control mandate was based on a couple of scientific judgments. Birth control benefits women's health and it costs less than having babies. So, as part of President Obama's health care overhaul, nearly all employers who provide health insurance are supposed to include birth control coverage at no cost to the employees.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: No woman's health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes. Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health, period.

HORSLEY: Well, maybe not period. More like semi-colon. When the administration's policy was finalized last month, it quickly drew objections from the Catholic Church. Although churches themselves got an exemption from the birth control mandate, big Catholic hospitals, universities and other organizations did not. Church leaders accused the government of compromising their religious freedom and Republicans quickly picked up that charge. Mr. Obama blames some of the attacks on cynical politics.

Nonetheless, he says, he takes religious liberty seriously.

OBAMA: As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right.

HORSLEY: So, today, the president announced what he hopes is a way to maintain women's access to birth control without jeopardizing religious freedom. Catholic organizations will be allowed to offer health insurance without birth control, but their insurance companies will then have to contact workers directly and provide birth control coverage if desired at no cost.

OBAMA: The result will be that religious organizations won't have to pay for these services and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly.

HORSLEY: This workaround has not satisfied the most diehard critics of birth control, but they're a distinct minority, even within the Catholic Church. The real goal for the White House is to allay broader sense that the government was infringing on religious liberty. Former Virginia governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, Tim Kaine, is among the Catholic politicians who'd criticized the original White House policy. This time, he says, the president got it right.

TIM KAINE: What they did today takes the religious liberty off the table and really makes it now just a question of the contraception policy, which I think is a good one.

HORSLEY: Kaine calls the new policy simple and straightforward, which raises the question - why the president didn't take this route in the first place? Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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