One of the most controversial aspects of President Obama‘s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, was that it mandated all health insurance plans cover birth control for women. That might not seem like too much to ask, given that Viagra doesn’t normally cost men a penny, but plenty of religious organization or religiously-affiliated companies weren’t too thrilled about the idea of ladies taking control of their reproductive health.
Originally, President Obama worked out a loophole where churches and synagogues could apply for a special waiver from covering birth control. In these instances, the government would cover the cost of a private insurance plan that covered birth control for ladies interested in using contraception. This way, women who chose to could still get coverage, but churches wouldn’t have to pay for something they disagreed with on spiritual grounds.
Still, that wasn’t enough for conservatives, who didn’t want anyone with the slightest moral obligation (or financial concern masquerading as a moral obligation) to have to pay for a health plan that would cover women who wanted to be safe and responsible about their family planning.
So now, after legal battles, protests, and plenty of news coverage, President Obama is offering another compromise. His proposal will allow religiously-affiliated organizations to opt out of the birth control coverage. However, because all women deserve to control their reproductive health, whether they work for a Catholic university or not, the new plan would ask insurers to cover the cost of free birth control for women who want it.
Why would health insurance simply offer up free birth control to whoever wants it? Well because allowing women to control their family planning will actually save the insurance companies money. The cost of a single pregnancy probably covers annual birth control costs for a hundred women.
The compromise seems like a bit of a peace offering for conservatives who have held on to this controversy, even through the President’s re-election. Even through overwhelming support from the public for making insurance plans cover contraception.
Unfortunately, those opposing the birth control mandate are still unhappy with the deal, calling it an “accounting gimmick” and maintaining that it removes their First Amendment rights to practice their religion. The Catholic Association responded to the proposal by saying,
“Catholic institutions and other faith based organizations, including hospitals and universities and private employers, still do not get their 1st Amendment rights back and are still being forced to either violate their faith or pay crippling government fines for practicing their faith.”
Because allowing their female employees to get free birth control, which the majority of them already use but pay for out-of-pocket, is akin to taking away the church’s 1st Amendment rights.
President Obama is trying to work with the conservatives on the birth control debate. However, it’s possible that any plan allowing women to make their own choices about their reproductive systems will never make these people happy. At least Obama can say he tried.