There are no signs the national furor is ebbing over the Obama administration’s plans to require that either employers or their insurance companies provide birth-control services at no extra cost to their female employees.
President Obama tried to quell the outcry Friday by saying insurance companies would pay for the birth-control products and services if religious employers objected.
“What his announcement on Friday ensures is that this issue is not going away anytime soon … we’re only just beginning,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has filed three federal lawsuits on behalf of religious employers that oppose the birth-control mandate.
The White House kept up its defenses Monday by criticizing legislation in Congress that would allow employers to opt out of health-insurance coverage they found objectionable.
That approach is “dangerous and wrong” — women, no matter where they work, need to have access to free preventive care, including birth control, said White House press secretary Jay Carney, referring to bills by Sens. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat; Marco Rubio, Florida Republican; and Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.
Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, said the “contraception controversy is only the beginning of Obamacare’s tyrannical reach into our personal lives.” The only acceptable “reform” is for the entire health care law to be repealed, he said, adding that he would fight for such a vote this week.
A dozen state attorneys general also have promised to “vigorously oppose” the contraception policy in court if it is not withdrawn.
“This so-called compromise is more form over substance from the president. We are still very concerned about the policy’s effect on religious liberty,” said Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange Monday.
The new proposal “is, at best, an accounting gimmick,” said Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, because it “still tramples on religious freedom by requiring support of activity that violates the conscience and beliefs of millions of Americans.”
Catholic, religious and conservative organizations also have hardened their stances, with more than 180 academics, journalists and scholars signing a letter called “Unacceptable” and 44 conservative leaders pledging to fight the regulations at foramerica.org.
On Friday, the Eternal Word Television Network, the largest Catholic media network in the world, filed a complaint in federal court in Alabama against the policy. This followed similar lawsuits filed by Belmont Abbey College, a Catholic liberal arts college founded by Benedictine monks in Belmont, N.C., and Colorado Christian University, a Christian liberal arts university near Denver, said the Becket Fund’s Ms. Smith. The employers object to being forced to provide insurance that covers birth control, sterilization services and “emergency contraception” products such as Plan B and Ella, which can destroy a pregnancy in its first days.
Meanwhile, supporters of the contraception policy are rallying as well.
The American Civil Liberties Union is scheduled to hold a media briefing Tuesday with a Fordham University student to highlight “the harms caused by a religious institution” that withholds contraception services.
Also, pro-choice groups are mobilizing supporters to defend birth control and fight legislation on Capitol Hill that would exempt employers from providing such services.
“How out of touch can they get?” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, to supporters Monday. “Your health care decisions should be between you and your doctor. Your boss shouldn’t get to decide what’s right for you or stand between you and basic health care,” she said.
On Monday, Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, and 87 House members, wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to signal their support for the new policy.
“It is imperative that this rule be implemented so that women and their families have fair, equal and automatic access to preventive health services, including contraception, without additional cost or barriers,” the House letter said.