Roman Catholic pressure to get the Obama administration to back down from its insistence that they provide free contraceptives in their healthcare plans appeared to be paying off on Tuesday.
Now the White House may be ready to work with the church to find a way to get around the mandate, said David Axelrod, a top adviser to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
“I think we need to lower our voices and get together,” Axelrod told MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms, so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions.”
“The president and the administration will move forward, but with a grace period or time period in order to work this thing through,” Axelrod added. “We want to resolve it in an appropriate way.”
Axelrod said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had already given churches an exemption to the mandate, against the recommendation of the Institute of Medicine. “The question now is about these extended affiliated institutions … and there are tens of thousands – hundreds of thousands – of women who work in these hospitals and universities who are not Catholic or they may be Catholic and they use birth control.
“The question is whether they are going to have the same package that every other woman in the country has to the same right and access to basic preventive care.”
Axelrod’s stance was in stark contrast to the message put out by White House press secretary Jay Carney less than 24 hours earlier.
“These services are important,” Carney said on Monday. “American women deserve to have access to that kind of insurance coverage regardless of where they work.”
The administration’s insistence that religious organizations provide insurance that covers contraceptives – including abortifacients such as the morning-after pill – has led to claims that Obama is anti-religion. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who converted to Catholicism in 2008, said last week, “The Obama administration is raging a war against the Catholic Church.”
Fellow Catholic candidate Rick Santorum said the church should have fought harder against the whole Affordable Health Care Act. “I told the Catholic bishops years ago when they were … promoting Obamacare, be careful what you wish for,” he said. “They got what they deserved.”
Catholic bishops wrote letters that were read to parishioners from the pulpit over the weekend. “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law,” was the message in the letter from many of the bishops. “People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens.”
Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops likened the regulation to forcing a Jewish deli to sell pork chops while Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York said, “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”
Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City went so far as saying the church may drop healthcare coverage altogether if a way cannot be found out of the impasse.
But whether the bishops have the backing of their followers is unclear. A USA Today poll released Tuesday showed that 58 percent of Catholics support compulsory contraceptive insurance. That figure rose to 62 percent among Catholic women.
Sebelius revealed the plan in late January, saying it would help guarantee universal access to birth control under Obama’s signature healthcare laws. The mandate is due to go into effect during 2013.
“The public health case for making sure insurance covers contraception is clear,” Sebelius wrote in an article in USA Today. She claimed the administration had worked to strike a balance between the rights of religious employers and the healthcare needs of their workers.