Window to Washington

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Blog: Straining to conceive a compromise on birth control

By Rich Daly
12:30 pm, Aug. 10

Call it the awkward phase of the campaign.

This past week one of the most glaring examples of conflicts between core supporters of the President Barack Obama’s healthcare policies—feminists and religiously motivated social justice advocates—was on full display. As was his attempt to please both groups on opposite sides of a controversy spurred by his healthcare law that nearly all employers cover no-cost birth control.

It came this past Wednesday when Obama added a Catholic twist to his re-election campaign pitch for the healthcare overhaul that usually touts the birth control mandate as a standout component.

“And listen, we recognize that many people have strongly held religious views on contraception, which is why we made sure churches and other houses of worship, they don’t have to provide it, they don’t have to pay for it,” he said at a University of Denver campaign stop. “We worked with the Catholic hospitals and universities to find a solution that protects both religious liberty and a woman’s health.

So, does that mean there’s been a “solution” to the controversy over the health law’s requirement that Catholic hospitals—among others—cover contraceptives?

The White House and HHS deferred questions on the matter to the Obama campaign, which re-issued a Feb. 10 statement by the president on the issue, by way of reply.

Despite Obama’s implication, the search for a compromise continues, according to a spokesman for the Catholic Health Association. The advocacy group for the nation’s Catholic hospitals—and a critical supporter of the healthcare law—rejected a tentative comprise offered in the spring as unworkable but continues to discuss a better compromise before a temporary waiver for such institutions expires next August.

“The President is on record saying one purpose of the yearlong waiver is to have time to work this out and it is important to stay in dialogue which we are doing,” Sr. Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the CHA, said in a written response to my questions.

Of course, those discussions won’t keep people on both sides of the controversy from noticing all future Obama campaign moves on the issue, so expect more contortions over the next three months.

You can follow Rich Daly on Twitter @MHRDaly.


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