Headlines on White House thinking didn’t look good for women’s health care advocates Tuesday night. But one advocacy group tells TPM that they’re not worried about what’s being reported as a serious shift from the Obama administration on a edict that requires all health insurance plans to provide birth control to women who want it.
The issue has become a firestorm in the presidential race, with Mitt Romney attacking Obama on it last week amidst improving economic news. Republicans and leaders of the Catholic Church have called on Obama to change the rule, allowing religious-run hospitals, universities and the like to deny their employees birth control coverage based on their religious tenets.
At first, Democrats and the Obama campaign responded by pointing out what they called Romney’s hypocrisy on the issue. They reacted quickly, pumping out tale after tale of Romney’s seeming flip-flop on the issue of contraceptive requirements. A Feb. 3 Boston Globe story, “Romney shifted on ‘conscience’ issue,” was a favorite in those early emails. The Obama campaign turned the story into an infographic, detailing how rules Romney oversaw while governor of Massachusetts when it came to insurance plans offering contraceptives were similar to the new federal rules he’s attacking Obama for.
Women’s groups reacted by backing the White House, pushing out polls that showed a broad-based support — even among Catholics — for the White House plan. They said the plan was a political win for Obama, something that would solidify support with women and progressives.
On Tuesday, however, the White House appeared to buckle under the Republican pressure. “In a shift, the White House to seek to allay concerns of religious employers on birth control order,” the AP reported. “White House Signals Willingness to Compromise On Contraception Controversy,” said ABC. The gist, from both organizations: The White House was planning to use a built-in one year waiting period on the new rules for religious groups to strike a new deal that could allow them an out from the new rules.
It was a surprise for observers of the process, who expected the Obama administration to hold its ground. But one prominent group of women’s reproductive health advocates suggested the reports from the White House — which essentially centered on public statements from the White House Press Secretary and Obama campaign advisers on TV Tuesday — were being overblown, and were really just focused on the one-year implementation period that had already been agreed to.
The White House “stood strong,” the group said, “because it’s good health policy.” They noted the line from the ABC News story that any deal between the White House and religious groups “would ensure that women have health insurance that fully covers contraception while also allaying concerns of religious organizations that oppose birth control.”
It’s groups like these that Obama would risk criticism from if a real deal to undo the edict was on the table. But with them still on board — at least with news about a compromise still trickling out — the White House may be able to avoid the ire of the left while trying to allay the concerns among religious groups.