WASHINGTON — Democratic US lawmakers worry President Barack Obama may bow to Catholic groups fighting new rules to expand access to birth control for millions of women, congressional aides confirmed Wednesday.
US media have reported that the lawmakers were pressing Obama to hold the line on requiring employer insurance plans to cover preventive care free of charge, as called for under his historic health care overhaul.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in August called for including birth control under that part of the law, saying that not doing so “would be like not covering flu shots,” the Washington Post reported.
But she called for exempting non-profit groups who oppose contraception on moral or religious grounds and are designed to spread religious values and that primary employ people who share them, according to US media reports.
Religious groups have pushed for a far broader exemption that could cover institutions like Catholic hospitals, schools or clinics, excluding the women who work for them from the underlying proposed rule, the Post said.
But some Democratic lawmakers have denounced that effort, which could rile Obama’s women supporters ahead of the November 2012 elections.
“A woman’s decision on how and when to build her family is a matter of her own conscience,” 65 Democratic House members said in a November 18 letter to Obama, which was made public on Monday.
Democratic Representative Diana DeGette, co-chair of the House of Representatives Pro-Choice Caucus, led the effort.
“The conscience of an employer or an insurance company should not impede a woman’s access to birth control without cost-sharing under any circumstances. We oppose any efforts to further exempt employers,” they said.
A broad exemption risks denying coverage to 800,000 people working at Catholic hospitals, 300,000 employed at religious schools, and 1.7 million students attending 900 religiously affiliated colleges, said Degette.
Democrats of both chambers have pressed the White House on the issue, according to the New York Times and the Washington Post.