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Campaign by US Bishops Forces White House to Concede; Women’s Access to Birth Control Is Now “On a Wing and a Prayer”

February 10, 2012

The White House has announced what it would like us to call an “accommodation” on access to insurance coverage for birth control.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said: “We are glad to see that the administration did not choose to cave completely to the bishops. But the reality is that this compromise relies on insurance companies doing the right thing, and gives victory #1 to the bishops on their ‘religious liberty’ shopping list.

“Previous compromises of this nature, such as that in Hawaii, may have made some conservatives happy, but they have also meant that some women have not been able to access coverage in a timely and easy manner. That is unacceptable.

“It’s unfortunate that on this issue, as many others, far too many in the administration and Congress have sacrificed women’s health to get something they want more. Rejecting the FDA’s advice on Plan B, the continued implementation of the Hyde Amendment, attacks on funding for Title X, lack of abortion coverage in the Affordable Care Act—the list goes on and on. This administration has shown that it will not stand with women when it comes to supporting access to, and easing the availability of, reproductive healthcare services. Not only that, it means that those advocates and champions in Congress who fought hard over the past three weeks to support the administration’s proposal on birth control have been hung out to dry.

“One wonders what has been gained by this ‘accommodation.’ It certainly isn’t the support of Catholics. The majority of Catholics are in favor of contraceptive access for women, regardless of where they work. And despite hopes and promises, the bishops won’t be throwing their support behind this administration, or women’s health, or true religious liberty anytime soon.

“The US bishops will move on to the other items on their list, demanding special treatment in federal contracts, allowing them to opt out of providing reproductive healthcare services and condoms for HIV prevention, forcing compromises in those states that have marriage equality statutes and allowing religious employers to discriminate in hiring practices. If successful, it means that people who have been trafficked, refugees, recipients of foreign assistance, Catholics and non-Catholics working for Catholic institutions and many others may experience state-sanctioned discrimination.

“Given that the administration has said that the ‘accommodation’ will leave religiously affiliated organizations with clean hands if they do not want to cover birth control, it is doubly disappointing that the White House did not agree to extend the new plan to churches and others who were granted an exemption. It means that the gardeners, secretaries, cleaners, cooks and all those who work for churches around the country will continue to be discriminated against.

“It’s now clear that there are members of both parties who have decided that women’s health coverage is a bargaining chip they are willing to deal away at the first sign of trouble. As the election season heats up, we can only fear for what further compromises will be made for presumed political gain. And unfortunately, too many women will have to put their hope in insurance companies—hired by employers opposed to contraception—to get the healthcare that is not only basic, preventive and safe, but guaranteed to every other American employee who doesn’t have to sneak around their boss to get it. The administration has left women relying on a wing and a prayer that they will be able to access the services they need in a timely manner.”

Catholics for Choice has been at the forefront of the campaign to point out what happens when political leaders defer to the bishops. An ad titled “What Catholics Believe about Birth Control” appears in the the Washington Post today and will appear in newspapers around the country over the weekend.