Birth Control Chess

Last week, I argued that it was unlikely that many critics of President Obama's contraceptive coverage requirement would be mollified by a compromise that would allow a religious exemption but still mandate that employees be provided with contraceptive coverage at no extra cost. Apparently, we're about to find out if that’s the case. I was very concerned when I first read that Obama was planning to announce a "compromise," and part of me still wishes he had just stood firm given the that the arguments against the new regulation were so bad. But, as described, I believe that the “accommodation” that was announced by the administration is acceptable. The bottom line is that employees will still be able to receive contraceptive coverage at no extra cost, and as NARAL's statement explains "[i]t guarantees that women will encounter no barriers from their bosses or insurance plans in getting birth control without a copay." As long as the substantive rights and benefits of employees are not affected, I don't believe that the precise structure of the plan is important.

There may also be some clever politics involved in Obama’s decision. Sister Carol Keehan, President of the Catholic Hospital Association, announced that she was “very pleased" with the agreement. Isolating the CHS (who, as Jon Cohn notes, are actually involved in providing health care on the ground) from intransigent Bishops who just want to deny women access to birth control is a shrewd maneuver. But, however the politics play out, the important thing is that access to contraceptive coverage has not been compromised. What initially looked like it might be a retreat or cave-in isn't.