The White House insisted Thursday it is undeterred by widespread protests from the U.S. Catholic hierarchy over rules on providing contraceptives, promising not to back down from its controversial decision to require health insurance policies to provide contraceptive services. Catholic officials say the requirement to provide contraceptives to employees amounts to religious discrimination.
“There’s not a debate,” said press secretary Jay Carney. “The decision has been made.”
There were few signs of the protest abating, though, as Republicans sought political advantage from the furor and the number of American bishops writing letters in opposition grew to 140 of the nation’s 195 dioceses. Carney led the public defense of the policy, aided by a conference call arranged by the White House to let two senior administration officials field questions and argue the merits of the decision, which was announced by Health and Human Services Jan. 20.
Shortly before the call began, House Speaker John Boehner condemned the decision, calling it unconstitutional, an argument quickly rejected by Carney. “We obviously believe this is constitutional,” he said. Boehner echoed a line of attack heard on the campaign trail from the Republican presidential candidates, including former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who accused President Obama of “waging a war on religion.” The policy provides a full exemption only to the churches themselves and to operations designed for the furtherance of religious goals. It gives religious-based institutions a year to decide how to meet the requirements.
But there was no sign of any wavering by the administration. Pointedly, the conference call started with the declaration that “we aren’t here to make any new policy announcements or any changes.” Instead, the call was arranged because, one official said, “there’s been a fair amount of interest and some confusion on this matter.” Pressed on whether there is any reconsideration in light of the protests, the official responded, “We made a decision after very careful consideration and we believe it strikes the appropriate balance.”
Carney said the administration is eager to work with the affected religious organizations over the next year to help them implement the new policy. He said there was no consideration of the possible impact on the election in November. “This is not a decision about politics,” he said.
Carney contended that some of the debate about the decision has mis-stated the basics. “No individual will be required to use or prescribe contraception,” he said. “This rule does not force anyone with a religious objection, such as a Catholic doctor, to prescribe or provide contraception. It merely requires that insurance companies provide coverage for contraceptives to patients who want them, which is the recommendation of the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine.”
He also stressed that it is in line with current law in 28 states. “Several of those states, like North Carolina, New York and California, have identical religious employer exemptions. Some states, like Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin, have... no exemption for churches or other houses of worship.”
Repeatedly casting it as a women’s health issue rather than a political issue, Carney said it is also an important matter of economics. "On average, an American woman uses contraception for 30 years of her life, with the average cost of contraception at $50 per month," he said.