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President Obama Makes 'Accommodation' on Birth Control Policy

Common Dreams staff

President Obama announced today that religious employers will not have to cover birth control for their employees after all.

Women who work for religious institutions that object to offering birth control coverage will get contraception for free, directly from their insurers. The institutions won’t have to pay for it. The White House argues that this preserves both the “liberty” of those institutions and the core, inviolate principle that all women will have equal access to birth control, no matter where they work.

The White House is referring to the change as an "accommodation." Women's groups, liberal religious leaders and health advocates have been pressing Obama not to cave in on the issue.

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UPDATE: Greg Sargent of the Washington Post spoke with Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women. He reports:

“The president is making a statement that women are entitled to have birth control. Birth control is an essential part of health care for women, and the president is standing strong for that policy.“
- NOW president Terry O’Neill
[...] She says she’s optimistic that the change the White House outlined will preserve full access to birth control for the women affected by it, though she says implementation will have to be watched closely.

“The president is making a statement that women are entitled to have birth control,” O’Neill says. “Birth control is an essential part of health care for women, and the president is standing strong for that policy.“

She said that the way to judge the policy is to see if it the experience of a woman who work for religious organizations remains as follows: “She goes to the doctor, gets her prescription, goes to the CVS, gets it filled, and the doctor and the prescription are covered by insurance.”

This experience, O’Neill says, will have to be “seamless.” She added that the administration had assured her that the policy will preserve this experience, and while she said implementation bears watching, she’s optimistic that it will work.

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UPDATE: Planned Parenthood has now issued a statement endorsing Obama's "accommodation":

“In the face of a misleading and outrageous assault on women’s health, the Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work."

“We believe the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman’s ability to access these critical birth control benefits."

“However we will be vigilant in holding the administration and the institutions accountable for a rigorous, fair and consistent implementation of the policy, which does not compromise the essential principles of access to care." [...]

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Politico reports on how former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley angered the women on Obama's senior staff :

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan met with the president in November. (AP Photo)

It was no secret inside the West Wing that Bill Daley, a Catholic with deep connections to the church hierarchy, vehemently opposed the administration’s proposal to require church-run hospitals and universities to give their employees free contraception.

But it was the way he pushed his case that aggravated some women on President Barack Obama’s senior staff, according to current and former administration officials. In early November, without consulting them, Daley set up a four-man Oval Office meeting for himself, Obama, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Vice President Joe Biden, who both shared the view that the policy would sink the president with Catholic voters. [...]

“Think of this as Bill Daley’s parting gift to the White House”“Think of this as Bill Daley’s parting gift to the White House,” a prominent abortion-rights activist who works closely with the administration told POLITICO.

Several of the president’s most influential female advisers — Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett among them — were angry by what they viewed as a Daley power play and made their sentiment known to Obama, according to several people close the situation.

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