Obama Decision on Contraceptives Won't Stop Legislative Push

Critics blast Obama compromise, still plan to push issue in Congress

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President Obama's attempt to thread the needle on the issue of whether religious institutions should provide contraception isn't winning over his harshest critics, and likely also won't stop a legislative showdown.

On Friday, Obama announced a compromise over the controversial policy, stating that employers with religious objections to providing cost-free birth control to employees wouldn't have to—but that women could receive it directly from health insurers, free of cost.

But critics are questioning whether "free" is really free. Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt blasted the decision as a mere "accounting gimmick"—and, according to his office, he will continue to push for legislation to repeal the contraception mandate for most religious institutions.

"It's still clear that President Obama does not understand this isn't about cost—it's about who controls the religious views of faith-based institutions," Blunt said in a released statement. "President Obama believes that he should have that control. Our constitution states otherwise."

[See political cartoons about the contraception controversy.]

Blunt plans to continue to push for legislation to force an up-or-down vote in Congress on the entire rule, which only grants limited religious exemptions to churches on requirements that employers provide contraceptives. Blunt tried on Thursday night to include the bill as an amendment to a larger piece of legislation, but was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

House Speaker John Boehner signalled that the legislative push would continue in the House, as well—and while not quite opposing the deal, expressed deep skepticism and complained that religious leaders weren't involved in the process.

"The Catholic Church and others in our nation's religious community are not yet convinced the President's mandate doesn't constitute an attack on religious freedom," a Boehner spokesman said.

Sen. Tom Coburn—a Republican from Oklahoma and an obstetrician and gynecologist—isn't buying Obama's policy either.

"No such a thing as 'free' in #Obamacare. Taxpayers always pay," he wrote on Twitter.

The right-leaning Heritage Foundation claimed that the cost would ultimately fall on religious institutions, even if they were not directly charged.

"Under the president's proposal, employers and employees will still bear the cost of paying for coverage of contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization because insurance companies will simply pass on the cost of this 'free' service with higher premiums to the employer," wrote Jennifer Marshall, director of domestic policy for the Foundation.

The White House claims that there aren't ultimately any costs to providing birth control. From the insurers' perspective, birth control is much cheaper than an abortion—or covering a baby.

"Covering contraception is cost neutral for insurance companies since it saves money by keeping women healthy and preventing spending on other health services," the White House claimed in a statement.

Others, meanwhile, are holding their fire. Timothy Dolan, the Cardinal-designate of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said it was too soon to evaluate Obama's new position, calling it the "first step in the right direction."


Twitter: @AlexParkerDC