Instead, insurance companies will be compelled to offer them to insured employees of those institutions without charge. Obama said his administration was acting to preserve access to contraceptive coverage and at the same time address objections from religious officials.
“We live in a pluralistic society; we’re not going to agree on every issue, or share every belief,” Obama said at the White House. “That doesn’t mean we have to choose between individual liberty and basic fairness for all Americans.”
Administration officials who briefed reporters before Obama spoke said they believe the requirement will be cost-neutral for insurers because contraceptives avert costs related to prenatal care and child delivery. They said the cost cannot be passed on through higher premiums. Insurers would not be required to offer free contraceptive coverage to workers in churches and other houses of worship.
The administration’s shift is meant to quell a controversy that arose after a Jan. 20 announcement that it will enforce a provision of the 2010 health-care overhaul that included the contraceptive rule.
The presidents of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Catholic Health Association of the United States issued statements in support of the shift in policy. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not issue an immediate statement.
New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of bishops’ conference, was sharply critical of the administration’s original decision and urged Catholics to put pressure on Congress.
“Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” Dolan said in a video posted on the conference website.
Church leaders and nonprofit religious groups that primarily employ and serve people of the same faith were exempt under that announcement, while church-affiliated hospitals and universities were not.
The decision created an election-year split among Senate Democrats, with some Catholics in the party joining Republicans in calls to modify or scrap it.
Under the revised rule, the insurance companies would offer the contraception directly to the women who work for religious- based hospitals and universities, so that their employers don’t have to be involved. The religious employers also would not subsidize the cost of the coverage.
Obama remains committed to ensuring that all women have access to contraceptive coverage even if they work for a religious institution, the officials said. The rule is intended to respect the objections from religious institutions by not forcing them to provide the coverage, the officials said.
In the face of opposition from religious leaders, Vice President Joe Biden yesterday hinted at the possibility of a compromise before the mandate takes effect next year. In an interview with a Cincinnati radio station, he said a “significant attempt” was being made to find a solution.
Some Catholic Democrats in the Senate, such as John Kerry of Massachusetts and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, pressed the administration to make changes.
The move to revisit the issue just days after the policy was announced indicated the uproar from religious institutions and some Catholic Democrats in Congress caught the administration off guard.
Officials repeatedly said the transition period before the rule takes effect in 2013 — after the election — was built in to address concerns that Obama’s advisers anticipated from the Catholic church.
The intra-party rift is providing an election-year gift to Republicans. They are seeking to demonstrate unity against aspects of the health-care law unpopular with their party’s base and to highlight differences that might gain support from Catholics and social conservatives.
Catholic voters are a critical bloc in such swing states as Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania that have competitive Senate races and are battlegrounds in the presidential election.