Administration Backtracks on Birth Control, but at What Cost?

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It looks like the Obama administration is pretty much completely caving on the rule forcing religious organizations to provide free contraception coverage for employees at facilities with a secular purpose (hospitals, schools, etc.).  The onus has been shifted to insurance companies, which will contact women separately and offer them the optional coverage, which they will pay for.  The insurers aren't happy, of course, but they never are these days.  The administration, meanwhile, is trying to spin this as a victory:


This is better for both sides, the source says, since the religious organizations do not have to deal with medical care to which they object, and women employees will not have to be dependent upon an organization strongly opposed to that care in order to obtain it.
After last week's Susan G. Komen firestorm, I will be very interested to see how this unfolds.  I noted last week that if the Susan G. Komen foundation had just never given Planned Parenthood a grant in the first place, there might have been isolated complaints, but it's doubtful that it would have escalated to a PR fiasco.  Taking the grants away, however, was a very different matter.  That's in part because it's harder to explain--not giving it can be simply explained by saying that there were better candidates for limited funds, but taking it away once you've given it demands an explanation of what changed.  Susan G. Komen didn't have a good one--"changing sentiment about abortion" wasn't going to win them any friends--and the explanation they offered was fairly transparently an excuse.

But it's also because people react to losses differently from potential gains.  If you don't give someone a raise, maybe they're mad.  But it's nothing compared to the fury you will trigger if you try to cut their pay.

I suspect that the Obama administration may find itself with the same problem.  Had they simply allowed religious groups an out in the first place, you would have heard some muttering from women's groups.  But they told women's groups that they were going to make the Catholic Church pay for free birth control--handing them a pretty major victory in a long-running battle.  Supporters of this decision have been vehemently defending it for a week, investing them even more heavily in the outcome.  Now the administration has done a 180.  It would be pretty understandable if they took this as a betrayal.

Of course, women's groups (and feminists more generally) have a lot of other reasons to support the Obama administration; they may decide to give him a pass for the greater good.  On the other hand, before the last week, I would have said something about the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Update:  Commenters point out that I've misread it--the insurers have to provide it "at no cost".  Which of course means the Church will still be paying for it.  So the question is, how do the Catholics take it?  Not well, from what I can see.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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