White House May Be Ready To Compromise On Contraceptive Coverage Regulations

There are some signs that the Obama Administration may be looking for a way out of the controversy it has found itself in with Catholics and other religious groups:

The White House may be open to compromising on a new rule that requires religious schools and hospitals to provide employees with access to free birth control, a senior strategist for President Obama said on Tuesday morning.

David Axelrod, who serves as a top adviser to Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program that the president would “look for a way” to address the vocal opposition from Catholic groups who say the rule forces them to violate their religious beliefs against contraception.

“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms, so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,” Mr. Axelrod said.

As I noted yesterday, this is a potential political landmine for Democrats so it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Administration try to find a way to resolve this in a manner that tones down a controversy that, in the end, didn’t need to happen.

In the meantime, the negative reaction to the decision continues to mount, with Democratic pundit Kristen Powers being the latest to call the decision itself baffling:

I’m not Catholic. I support contraception. But this is madness.

The administration wants to remind us of their benevolence: they are giving institutions with religious objections a whole year to implement a government rule that violates the core tenets of their faith. Gee, thanks!

“In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops told The Washington Post.

If religious institutions choose to ignore the mandate by dropping their insurance plans, they will face exorbitant fines under the Affordable Care Act that could force them to close their doors. Smith tells me that for one of the Becket Fund’s clients, the fine for the first year would be more than $300,000, and for the second year, more than $500,000.

One thing we can be sure of: the Catholic Church will shut down before it violates its faith. We saw that recently when Catholic adoption and foster-care services closed in Massachusetts and Illinois rather than comply with state mandates that they place children with gay parents. Who lost? Parentless children.

The administration has to know this, so why would it force the hand of Catholic institutions that have traditionally filled in the gaps in social services that the government failed to provide? The people who will suffer if they close their doors are the poor, refugees, the homeless, orphans, and the elderly.


Regardless of how the courts rule, the administration has planted its flag on the wrong side of history on this issue. The government’s disregard for the fundamental right of freedom of religion is chilling and should cause all Americans concern.

It’s reactions like these, and the fact that even people who normally support the Obama Administration are speaking out against this, that leads me to think that we’re going to see this regulation withdrawn and something else put in its place that gives Church-run organizations more latitude in opting out.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Religion, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James in LA says:

    I’m all for bishops to keep their big beaks out of the medical decisions of women. This corrupt institution needs to hear the word NO over and over again, and then vigorously sued out of existence. No one listens to the moral arguments of child molesters, and their protectors.

    Contraceptives serve as a poor smoke-screen for the lives of boys and young men destroyed by the catholic church.

  2. @James in LA:

    Nobody is telling the employees of Catholic hospitals and the like that they can’t use contraceptives.

  3. @Doug Mataconis:

    Nobody is telling the employees of Catholic hospitals and the like that they can’t use contraceptives.

    No, they’re just telling anyone who lives in a community where the Catholic church has corned the hosptial market that they can’t use contraceptives.

    One solution here is simple: remove to requirement to have a prescription to obtain birth control. But I have no sympathy for an organization that, on one hand, demands the government force all people who wish to obtain a particular service to get permission from them, but then wants to complain that they’re actually expected to provide that permission.

  4. Trumwill says:

    Hehe. I was going to write:

    Yeah, but CHILD MOLESTERS!!! (Because I think this constitutes a valid and thoughtful response to anything involving the Catholic Church)

    But lo and behold, someone already decided that constitutes a valid and thoughful reply.

  5. @Stormy Dragon:

    No, they’re just telling anyone who lives in a community where the Catholic church has corned the hosptial market that they can’t use contraceptives.

    Again, no they are not.

  6. ChrisB says:

    I’m not sure I follow how anti-contraception is a core Catholic belief. When Humanae Vitae was being argued about, the College of Cardinals held that birth control was allowable in some circumstances (the pope overruled them). If the Cardinals thought that birth control could be okay sometimes, how is opposition to birth control somehow the key to the Catholic faith?

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    I think this not so much about contraception but just more of the war on religion fodder. Many Catholic Hospitals and University already cover contraception and 28 states already require it. My state required it a few years ago and I doubt recall any outrage.

  8. David M says:

    @Ron Beasley: Good point that this would only apply in the 22 states that don’t yet require it. Doug is right, even without this regulation people can still get contraception, it will just be more expensive (without insurance coverage).

  9. Tsar Nicholas says:

    It isn’t suprising that Team Obama is in retreat here and ultimately that they’ll cave. Obama is extremely vulnerable in Pennsylvania this year. That’s a state with a lot of electoral votes and, germane to this issue, a very high percentage of older, working-class Catholics who vote in general elections. Vulnerable incumbents who unnecessarily stir up hornet’s nests with mature voters have this unfortunate tendency to become one-termers. Axelrod is aware of this.

  10. Moderate Mom says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Once again, no one is saying that the employees of Catholic institutions can not use birth control. What the church is protesting is the ruling that the health insurance that they provide to employees would have to contain coverage for birth control and sterilization procedures, which would also be at no cost to the insured. The Church doesn’t want to be ordered to provide and pay for something that they believe to be a sin.

  11. Turner says:

    Several Christian leaders have now joined with the Catholics in this issue, usually groups that do not work together. For an interesting, serious article about this, go to:http://www.albertmohler.com/

  12. Ozman says:

    Thank you to Moderate Mom. Many Catholics use the pill, that’s not the issue. Many Catholic employers cover contraception…again, that’s not the issue. SOME Catholic employers (like Catholic Charities – which are independent non-profits providing incredibly valuable services to refugees, homeless, battered women, abused children) object to being required to include in their “defined” health plan offerings that include contraceptive services that must include not only the pill, but abortifacients (morning after pill) and sterilizations. The objection is that the Catholic organization should not be required to violate its religious protections by being forced to offer the coverage. Offer the employee (who wants the contraception option) another route to get it.

    That’s it. You will see this furor go away if the administration simply rewrites the rule. As a liberal Catholic who worked hard for health care reform, I am furious with administration over this gaffe. I will not cast my vote for Obama again if this is not resolved. It is about religious freedom not contraception. We make exceptions in this country for these kinds of things.

  13. superdestroyer says:

    Any compromise will be short lived. As soon as the Democrats regain control of the House, the Democrats will renege on any deal. this is just a way for the Obama Administration under the direction of David Axelrod to single to the left what will happen in the future.

  14. superdestroyer says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Want to bet on how many of those Catholic Hospitals actually allow abortions to be performed? or IVF? My guess is zero.

    What you are saying is that the employees have access to a health plan that pays for those is the employee chooses to pay for it.

  15. Megan says:


    The morning after pill is most definitely NOT an abortifacient. It prevents ovulation. Research has concluded that it does NOT prevent implantation; before, the FDA included this language (“it may prevent implantation”) because research simply hadn’t demonstrated otherwise. But now that it has, doctors and scientists are trying to eliminate this language from information pamphlets. It’s also available over the counter so there’s no need for any health insurance plan to cover it, so no, the Church is not being “forced” to cover any abortifacients. This debate is solely over the issue of contraceptive coverage.

  16. WR says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Oh, come on, TN. We’re all breathlessly waiting for you “there’s still a Catholic church?” response.

  17. WR says:

    @Moderate Mom: Meanwhile, the archbishop of New York just took back the apology he gave ten years ago for the church’s coverup of priest sex abuse of young boys. He’s now declared he was wrong to apologize, because the church and the priests did nothing wrong.

    So, apologies to Trumwill here, you will forgive me if I’m not interested in what the cardinals have to say about people using birth control. When they show the slightest interest in the huge damage they’ve done to so many innocent people, I’ll start to consider thinking of them as any kind of moral authority.

  18. WR says:

    @Ozman: Your notion of religious freedom is allowing the church to enforce a rule on non-followers that you, as a follower, think is absurd and don’t follow yourself?

    Tell you what, give up birth control and live by the consequences. Then you’ll have moral standing to demand that people who don’t even belong to your religion do the same.

  19. Steve V says:

    If the rule is the same rule that the majority of states uses, I really fail to see any basis for outrage here. The various Catholic-run institutions have already been operating under state versions of this rule. Why is everyone acting like this is a new proposal?

  20. Septimius says:

    @Steve V:

    Most states that require contraceptive coverage in employer-based insurance plans have exemptions for church affiliated institutions. However, it does seem a bit disingenous for the Catholic Church to object to a federal mandate that it has been apparently complying with in at least 8 states.

  21. David M says:

    @Septimius: It’s not 8 states that already have the exact same rule as the HHS proposed, it’s 28 states. So most states require insurance policies to cover contraceptives, and it seems like it’s more of an issue because of Obama than anything else.

  22. Septimius says:

    @David M: It’s 8 states that do not provide any exemption for any religious institutions. 15 of the 28 states exempt not only the churches themselves, but also church affiliated organizations like schools and universities. The Church could avoid the state mandates by either dropping prescription drug coverage or self-insuring prescription drug coverage. Apparently, they will no longer be able to do this under the new federal mandate.

  23. Trumwill says:

    @David M: I think Septimus might be right here. Going through the states as listed here, very few states do not have a religious exemption.

    States with no contraception requirement: 21
    States with contraception requirement but a religious exemption: 18
    States with contraception requirement and NO exemptions: 9
    States that I did not understand the law enough to put into a category: 2