FRIDAY, Feb. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Facing a firestorm of
criticism from Catholic leaders, the Obama administration on Friday
said it will adjust its health care guideline mandating that
religious employers provide women with access to birth control.
In a shift from the current policy, the White House is now
saying that these employers will not have to extend free access to
birth control, but that insurance companies will be made directly
responsible for doing so.
Women who request birth control will still be able to get it
free of co-pays or premiums, but universities, hospitals and other
institutions with religious affiliations can refuse to cover it,
leaving the woman's insurance company with the responsibility of
In a press briefing Friday morning, an unnamed senior
administration official called the move "an accommodation" to
religious groups objecting to the policy, which still allows women
access to birth control.
"We still have the exemption for employees at churches," the official said. "But all women will have access to free preventive care, including contraception, no matter where they work. That's the core principle that's at stake here."
The change appears to be the Administration's attempt to satisfy
both sides on the issue -- religious leaders who object to
providing contraception to employees, and those who wish to see
that all women retain free access to birth control.
During a lunchtime press briefing, President Barack Obama
explained the new position further.
"No woman's health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes," CNN reported Obama as saying. But "the principle of religious
liberty" is also at stake. "As a citizen and as a Christian, I
cherish this right."
"Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive service no matter where they work," Obama said, according to USA Today. "That core principle remains. But if a woman's employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan. The insurance company -- not the hospital, not the charity -- will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge without co-pays, without hassle."
The White House first found itself embroiled in a political
fight with Catholic Church officials after a Jan. 20 announcement
that all religious-affiliated employers, with the exception of
churches and other houses of worship, would have to cover free
birth control as part of routine preventive care for women. These
institutions were given until August 2013 to comply with the
The announcement last month quickly met with a heated response
from Catholic leaders nationwide, and Republican leaders in
Congress promised quick legislation in Congress to stop the move.
The decision also became a flashpoint for the presidential election
race, as Obama's opponents labeled him as attacking religion. On
the other side, groups representing women and health advocates
pressured Obama to stand firm.
Under the revised plan, religious employers need not offer
contraception or refer women to places that might provide it. In
these cases, however, the woman's insurance company must fill in
the gap and cover contraception free of charge.
The rule is in keeping with the Obama administration's health
care reform law, which requires most insurance plans to cover
women's preventive health services with no co-pay, starting Aug. 1,
For more on birth control, head to the
Alan Guttmacher Institute.