The Obama administration got as tired of hearing about the Catholic Church birth control issue as we did and announced a don’t-call-it-a-compromise accommodation on the recent HHS proposal to require that non-church religious-run institutions provide health insurance to employees that includes birth control coverage.
The administration is not calling it a compromise, because the “rule” was never imposed in the first place. The proposal was intended to be negotiated over the course of the next year, but the firestorm allowed the administration to draft a change to end the discussion. The new standard will protect the churches from paying for contraception, but will require insurance companies to provide coverage free of charge.
This new proposal seems to be making everyone happy from Planned Parenthood to some major Catholic groups. The Bishops will continue to complain given that the costs to insurance companies will almost assuredly be passed along to the Church as higher premiums, but that is a nuanced enough complaint that they will have difficulty getting traction. Conservatives will also remain angry because, as the linked article notes, this debate for them was never about the Catholic Church, but securing the right of right-leaning business owners to exclude employee coverage based upon political beliefs. However, this stance had much less political appeal than couching the argument as an attack on a church. Without that shield, conservatives will have a hard time selling to Americans that individual CEOs should be permitted to impose their religious beliefs on health care. In short, Obama muddied the issue enough to drive it off the news channels.
But most importantly, the solution closes the political “problem” that faced the President. While we never got targeted polling on the issue focused on specific swing states, what we did get from general polling is that this entire firestorm affected, at best, 5% of Catholic voters who may have supported Obama but may not have based on this issue. Could that have shifted the election in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Michigan? Maybe. But with this accommodation, the President reclaims the support of probably 3/4 of those voters who are now satisfied with the policy. Will losing 1-2% of Catholic voters prevent Obama’s reelection? Perhaps, but not nearly as much as alienating the vote of the “soccer moms” that would have resulted from caving on this issue.