Obama Admin Talks About Backing Off New Obamacare Mandate

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 7, 2012   |   6:07PM   |   Washington, DC

Obama administration officials have suggested the White House may back off the controversial mandate that Catholics and pro-life advocates are up in arms about because it forces religious groups to cover birth control and drugs that may cause abortions.

David Axelrod, a top adviser to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, told MSNBC, “I think we need to lower our voices and get together.”

“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,” he said.

“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 talked about the current religious exemption in the mandate that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius put forward for the Obama administration — though it is very narrow and prevents most groups from truly exercising conscience and religious rights when it comes to Obamacare.

“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,” he told MSNBC. “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.”

Meanwhile, Pastor Joel C. Hunter, a Florida pastor who is a close Obama ally and a member of his faith council, told the Washington Post today that several religious groups with close ties to Obama officials have approached the administration about changing the mandate.

“There are conversations right now to arrange a meeting to talk with folks about how this policy can be nuanced,” he said. “This is so fixable, and we just want to get into the conversation.”

But the Post indicated officials with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops say no Obama administration staffers have talked with them about their concerns and mitigating the problems.

The comments are a departure from those from Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, who yesterday said, “These services are important. American women deserve to have access to that kind of insurance coverage regardless of where they work.”

They are also a departure from Sebelius’ comments in an article in USA Today in which she claimed the Obama administration had worked to strike a balance between the rights of religious employers and those who want to push birth control and possibly abortifacient drugs.

Congressman Steve Scalise has led a bipartisan letter with 154 co-signers calling on the Obama Administration to reverse its unconstitutional mandate forcing religious organizations to include drugs that can cause abortion and birth control in the health care plans of their employees.

Bishops across the country have spoken out against the mandate and are considering a lawsuit against it — with bishops in more than 164 locations across the United States issuing public statements against it or having letters opposing it printed in diocesan newspaper or read from the pulpit.

“We cannot — we will not comply with this unjust law,” said the letter from Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix. “People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens.”

Responding to the announcement, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, stated: “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”

“To force Americans to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. . . It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom,” he added.

The mandate is so egregious that even the normally reliably liberal and pro-abortion USA Today condemned it in an editorial titled, “Contraception mandate violates religious freedom.”

The administration initially approved a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine suggesting that it force insurance companies to pay for birth control and drugs that can cause abortions under the Obamacare government-run health care program.

The IOM recommendation, opposed by pro-life groups, called for the Obama administration to require insurance programs to include birth control — such as the morning after pill or the ella drug that causes an abortion days after conception — in the section of drugs and services insurance plans must cover under “preventative care.” The companies will likely pass the added costs on to consumers, requiring them to pay for birth control and, in some instances, drug-induced abortions of unborn children in their earliest days.

The HHS accepted the IOM guidelines that “require new health insurance plans to cover women’s preventive services” and those services include “FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling” — which include birth control drugs like Plan B and ella that can cause abortions. The Health and Human Services Department commissioned the report from the Institute, which advises the federal government and shut out pro-life groups in meetings leading up to the recommendations.