Obama Semi-Concedes On Birth Control Debate, Continues To Fight For Women’s Access To Contraception

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birth controlOne 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.

(Photo: Doruk Sikman/Shutterstock)


  1. Michelle

    February 1, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    As a Christian I’d like to point out to those opposed to the coverage that the bible states that we must pay taxes. Not only pay for taxes that fund what we agree with, but all taxes. It would be a better use of time to go mentor and encourage young women than to get all up tight about birth control, which in my experience is what majority of Christian (even Catholic) women use.

  2. Katia

    February 1, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Its still weird to me that any company is forced to provide something other than wages. We just don’t have that kind of thing in Canada though many companies would offer medical benefits it’s only to attract employees , nothing to do with the govt.
    Also are condoms ever included in medical plans? Because not only do they prevent stis, but in the long term they are also more beneficial for everyone’s health. (long term use of hormonal birth control is not great for women , hormones in the water are not great for anyone )

    Obama always finds an attractive, moderate solution – wish he could have one more term!

    • Stina Wargo Kolling

      February 1, 2013 at 9:53 pm

      No, insurance companies do not offer coverage for condoms because condoms are available over the counter at a wide variety of stores. Hormonal birth control is only available by prescription, and as a prescription medication it should be covered with OTHER prescription medications. And keep in mind that hormonal birth control pills are also used for a lot more than just baby-repellant; they’re also used to treat PMDD, PCOS, endometriosis, amenorrhea, even acne.

      Honestly, jobs are still hard to come by in this economy. People take what they can get. The nurse’s aide at the local Catholic hospital is probably not Catholic. This is where the “but it’s my religion” excuse starts to fall down; it’s not about religion for these corporations, it’s about money.

      It’s always about money…

    • Paul White

      February 1, 2013 at 10:43 pm

      It’s not like it’s birth control meds are the only meds insurance companies are happy to throw under the bus. Allergy and ulcer meds I’ve been prescribed weren’t covered under our plan. And don’t tell me ulcer meds aren’t frigging important–I was so bad for a stretch that I’d throwing up blood was part of my morning routine 2-3x a week.

    • Stina Wargo Kolling

      February 2, 2013 at 11:05 pm

      True, but 1) prescription plans cover a wide variety of medications, including a wide variety of ulcer/allergy meds, so if yours isn’t on the list there are bound to be quite a few that are. (I work for a large health insurance company that covers millions of people in 14 different states. I have seen the lists!) And 2) these companies are trying to weasel out of covering ANY prescription contraceptive. The whole category, out the window–with the excuse of “it’s against MY religion so no one can have it.”

    • Paul White

      February 3, 2013 at 3:52 pm

      It didn’t cover any non OTC ulcer meds. We’d tried OTC and it hadn’t helped much.

    • Katia

      February 2, 2013 at 12:27 am

      My optional medical plan at my company which my friend used to opt in to covered many things without a prescription.. Knee socks to prevent varicose veins for example! More people should be using condoms but theyre quite expensive

    • StephKay

      February 4, 2013 at 10:05 pm

      Condoms are available for free in a wide variety of locations in both Canada and the united states from public health funding. Hell, where I live in Canada you can literally call a number and have nurses drive to you in a van to drop off condoms and give you an STI screen in your own home if you want it, any time of day. It is definitely different up here, but in the case of America I think the other commenters did a pretty good job explaining why HBC is different from barrier methods in terms of ensuring those that need it can get it. I can’t stress this enough, I work in safer sex and I am DROWNING in condoms. I literally throw them into crowds at pride just to clear out stock before they expire. We have to ration female condoms, non-latex condoms, dental dams, and send volunteer nurses away due to lack of interest because none of the girls can afford to fill the birth control prescriptions they receive. Options are necessary, and right now the climate in public health funding for safer sex educators like me and other service providers is basically latex male condoms or nadda

  3. Pingback: Birth Control Mandate, Debate, Catholic Bishops Respond, Obamacare

  4. Jen

    February 8, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    people should pay for their own birth control, viagra, etc. I am a lapsed Catholic and I don’t agree with a lot (most) of what the church stands for. But I don’t care if you work at St. Patrick’s Cathedral or McDonald’s or wherever. Pay for your own birth control.

  5. CatholicChristian

    April 5, 2013 at 7:16 am

    ” Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses, your people yearning to breath free, ” unless, of course, they don’t believe in society’s latest fashions like birth control paid for by the working populace. So because it is unpopular, Christians who do not believe it is morally acceptable to kill the unborn must be forced to violate their beliefs because the voting majority want it that way? Does religious freedom mean you may worship whatever you want as long as it meets with the current ruling party’s view of what is right? Freedom of choice? I choose not to fund abortions including those that come from the morning after pill. Where is my freedom of choice?

  6. MCR

    June 12, 2013 at 8:56 am

    I’m usually sympathetic to religious rights issues, but I don’t see how paying for insurance that covers birth control differs, morally, from paying an employee her wages which she then uses to buy her own contraceptives.

    • abbeysbooks

      June 12, 2013 at 4:41 pm

      It doesn’t differ morally. It differs the way it does with WIC for feeding infants and money. People use the money – some – for things other than food for their babies. WIC is only for that. If insurance can pay for Viagra and Cialis, it can pay for birth control. Actually Obama caved on the morning after pill. It will go over the counter, to anyone who asks for it and pays for it. The way it should have been all along. It will take the bite out of abortion. Abortion will now move to the arena where a woman had a choice, didn’t make the call, and now wants to change her mind? It will get stickier.

    • MCR

      June 12, 2013 at 6:48 pm

      I see the parallel with WIC, but the issue is supposedly with people being forced to act against their moral or religious beliefs, so I’m trying to stick with that. If a RC institution pays its employees’ wages, they can take the money and buy contraceptives with it, or not, as they choose, and use them for marital sex or for sex with random strangers, as they choose. If the same institution covers its employees’ health insurance, the employees don’t have to use birth control, but they have that option. It’s essentially the same thing. For that matter, to use your example, if insurance covers Viagra, the employee may obtain Viagra and use it within his marriage, or he may use it to keep up with his three mistresses. Again, his choice, and the church-affiliated employer pays for it, directly or indirectly, yet there hasn’t been any outcry over church institutions being forced to pay for extramarital Viagra usage. I don’t see a moral argument here unless RC facilities feel they have the right and the obligation to oversee what their employees spend their wages on.

    • abbeysbooks

      June 12, 2013 at 11:28 pm

      Well the RC cannot take the high ground on anything with their sexual abuse of young boys and children. Prescriptions dealing with birth control or extended penises is simply a laugh after long term sex abuse being covered up and lied about. It is simply a mask, camouflage of morality to cover up the real evil. I won’t grant them their morality on that.

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