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Obama Wavering In Face of Anti-contraception Pressure

Common Dreams staff

Obama has been feeling pressure from conservatives and religious groups that have been criticizing his Affordable Care Act; the act includes a mandate requiring all health insurance plans to include birth control coverage. Conservative opposition has been mounting since HHS finalized the policy on January 20, 2012. As of Tuesday, signs of back peddling began to emerge as the Whitehouse said it would "accommodate the concerns of the employers who would be required to provide birth control coverage regardless of their religious beliefs".

Should the Affordable Care Act be revoked or reworked, individuals who are employed by an organization that objects to birth control could be denied insurance that includes contraception coverage.

The Whitehouse has been increasingly ambivalent on the issue, but women's health advocates are pushing hard to prevent a presidential back-pedal, urging Obama not to cave.

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FDL News reports:

An energized and battle-tested Planned Parenthood will issue a call to action to their members today to defend the President’s birth control policy and urge the White House not to give in to the fierce lobbying from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops by altering the policy in any way detrimental to universal access.

The organization will send a message from Cecile Richards to all its members on the issue today, FDL News has learned. According to a source, it will call for members to contact the White House, to “show your support for access to contraception for all women.” The group has also been active in social media on the birth control issue, particularly at their PPAct twitter feed.

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AP reports:

Obama’s spokesman defended the decision that prompted the flare-up, even as he raised the prospect of some adjustment. He said women working for church-affiliated employers must be able to get contraception, but he also made clear that the White House wants to accommodate the concerns of the employers who would be required to provide birth control coverage regardless of their religious beliefs.

“There are ways to, I think, help resolve this issue that ensures that we provide that important preventive service, that health care coverage, to all women, and that tries, in a way that also tries to allay some of these concerns,” Carney said. The spokesman did not say what those ways might be but said there were “a lot of different ideas out there.” [...]

Separately, Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod made the same point. “The real question is how do we get together and resolve this in a way that respects the concerns that have been raised but also assures women across this country that they’re going to have the preventive care that they need,” Axelrod said on MSNBC. [...]

“Publicly you can see a change in the administration,” said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats For Life of America. “It’s very different from what was said before, that this is final and nothing is going to change.”

Some Catholic supporters of the administration said they had noticed a shift in White House rhetoric that gave them hope a compromise could be worked out.

“Publicly you can see a change in the administration,” said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats For Life of America. “It’s very different from what was said before, that this is final and nothing is going to change.”

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New York Times reports:

The White House has been skittish from the start about the new rule, which was announced last month only after internal debates at the White House that, to some extent, pitted women — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is Catholic; Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, and Nancy-Ann DeParle, the deputy chief of staff, on one side, arguing forcefully in favor of the rule, administration officials said.

On the other side, cautioning that the administration tread carefully and look for ways to minimize another major break with the church, they said, were several Catholic men who are close advisers to Mr. Obama: Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and William M. Daley, the chief of staff at the time. Also weighing in, administration officials said, was Denis R. McDonough, the deputy national security adviser, whose purview does not naturally extend to health issues, but who is a Catholic.

“I can’t tell you how many times we went over this,” one administration official said, speaking on grounds of anonymity. In the end, it was Mr. Obama himself who made the decision, aides say, calculating that at the end of the day, the issue of public health access outweighed the concerns of the religious institutions.

Administration officials say one avenue for resolution might be to look at how Catholic institutions in the 28 states with similar laws have dealt with the issue. One possible compromise might be to emulate Hawaii, where the rule is in effect, but where employees at religious institutions that do not offer free contraception can get birth control through side benefits, which the employees nominally pay for but which often end up being free.

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Planned Parenthood released a poll on Tuesday titled “Americans Support Obama on Prescription Birth Control Benefit,” urging Obama to stand his ground. The poll shows:

A solid 56 percent majority of voters support the decision to require health plans to cover prescription birth control with no additional out-of-pocket fees, while only 37 percent are opposed. It’s particularly noteworthy that pivotal independent voters support this benefit by a 55/36 margin; in fact, a majority of voters in every racial, age, and religious category that we track express support. In particular, a 53 percent majority of Catholic voters, who were oversampled as part of this poll, favor the benefit, including fully 62 percent of Catholics who identify themselves as independents.

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Today Democracy Now! took a "look at how reproductive rights could become major issues in the 2012 race with three guests: Michael Brendan Dougherty of Business Insider and the American Conservative, Loretta Ross of the SisterSong Reproductive Justice Collective, and Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice":

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