Window to Washington

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Blog: Agreement on contraception issue may be more elusive now

By Rich Daly

Did the door to compromise close for Catholic hospitals this week?

Even as the Obama administration attempts a delicate negotiation with Catholic hospitals and other religious-run institutions over the healthcare law's birth control mandate, speech after speech at the Democrats' nominating convention showed little interest in compromising on the issue.

“We ensured life-saving preventive care and the full range of reproductive services are now covered,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) in her primetime convention speech in reference to the inclusion of birth control within preventive services that all insurance policies are required to cover.

That requirement touched off a political firestorm earlier this year among Catholic hospitals that supported the healthcare law when the Obama administration provided only a narrow religious exemption that excluded hospitals and universities. The controversy cooled down when the president promised to develop a compromise by next summer with groups that include the Catholic Health Association.

The CHA, which supported the healthcare law over the objections of the Catholic leadership, has since indicated doubts about the administration's willingness to compromise on the issue.

Those hospitals may have noted that one of the speakers that drew the most applause Wednesday night was Sandra Fluke, a former Georgetown Law School student, who led protests against the Catholic school's objections to the birth control mandate.

Fluke urged opposition to “an America in which access to birth control is controlled by people who will never use it.”

It was a message that also was reflected in campaign ads released during the convention in which women lamented, “I can't believe in 2012 we're still fighting over access to birth control.”

The convention demonstrated that the birth control issue has clearly emerged as a key political motivator for the Democratic base. What remains unknown is whether that that has eliminated any maneuvering room for the Obama administration to find common ground with the Catholic providers.

You can follow Rich Daly on Twitter @MHRDaly.

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