In Press Conference, Carney Reveals White House Just. Does. Not. Get. It. on Contraceptive Coverage

See all our coverage of the birth control mandate and IOM report here.

Jed Lewison, writing at Daily Kos, nails it when he underscores what’s wrong with the reasons the White House is now giving as it considers caving to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on coverage of birth control.

Lewison notes that at a press briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to a question by ABC’s Jake Tapper as follows:

JAKE TAPPER (ABC):    I’ve heard from a lot of Democrats in the last few weeks who are concerned about President Obama possibly granting an exemption to Catholic churches, hospitals and universities from the requirement that all insurance plans cover contraception.  I’m wondering if you could shed any light on this decision.  I know the President has not yet made a decision, but I think these Democrats, a lot of them in the abortion rights community, are concerned that this is even being discussed.  Could you explain why the President is considering an exemption, and what’s going into his decision-making?

JAY CARNEY (WH Press Secretary):  Well, part of the process, Jake, as you know, was seeking and receiving public input before the guidelines that were announced by the Secretary of Health and Human Services would go into effect.  That process did result in public input, as well as resulted in numerous comments from various folks who have concerns about this issue.

The President has — this decision has not yet been made.  You can be sure that we want to strike the right balance between expanding coverage of preventive services and respecting religious beliefs.  And that’s the balance that will be sought as this decision is made.

Lewison notes that “if you didn’t know any of the background, Carney’s answer seems perfectly reasonable. He makes it sound just like any other open decision, and promises that President Obama will come down on the side of balance.”

But, as Lewison points out, “The problem is, the decision has already been made.”

In August, the administration announced new rules requiring all new insurance plans to cover birth control and emergency contraception by 2013. At an early October fundraiser in St. Louis, President Obama himself hailed the rule. And when President Obama appeared before the U.N. in September, the administration touted the contraception rule as an example of America’s commitment to women.

So, writes Lewison, when Carney says “this decision has not yet been made,” he’s wrong. It has been made—and by reopening it, President Obama is succumbing to pressure from anti-choice groups.”

Even worse, writes Lewison, “Carney says President Obama is trying to “strike the right balance between expanding coverage of preventive services and respecting religious beliefs” without acknowledging the fact that the rules announced in August already included an exemption for churches.”

Even though that balance has already been achieved with the existing exemption, anti-choice groups are nonetheless claiming that the new rule violates their religious freedom. They say they want to expand the exemption beyond churches to  include hospitals and other facilities with religious affiliation, regardless of the religious beliefs of the people who work at and are served by those institutions. Despite their rhetoric, such an expansion would have nothing to do with religious liberty—remember, churches themselves are already exempted—and in fact would allow anti-choice activists to impose their own religious and moral views on others. What they really want is to get rid of the rule altogether, and they’re more than happy to use any tactic at their disposal to begin chipping away at it.

“In the face of such an obvious attack on the core of the rule, it’s disturbing to see the White House openly contemplate caving to the anti-choice movement,” writes Lewison.

I agree. It is disturbing.  But it is also completely predictable because it has happened repeatedly. Think Stupak Amendment executive order; think Nelson Amendment to the health care reform bill in the Senate.  Think about the President’s complete 180 on the Hyde Amendment. Think about the HHS regs that voluntarily expanded the denial of coverage of abortion care, applying the Stupak Amendment to exchanges, even though this was not required by law. Think of Obama’s silence in the face of clinic violence and the death of Dr. Tiller.  Think about the continued ab-only money and the fact that our international funding is still going to discredited programs.  I could go on but will stop there because it is all too depressing.

Lewison writes: “They must have known this attack was coming when they announced the rule, so why in the world are they getting weak knees now?”

Let’s say this: If they didn’t know the political ramifications there are some awfully naive people in charge of policy in the Administration and those that I know for sure are not naive are being out-weighed by others who are too scared of the Bishops boogeyman or too wrapped up in some unfathomable personal or political calculation to care what this will mean for women and as a precedent. Either way, the do not have women’s interests at heart.

If they did know and just can’t stand up and maintain a decicion that is in keeping with what the President espoused as his pro-choice platform even on birth control and even when there is absolutely no political gain from caving, we have been had. Every single pro-choice voter that cast a ballot for Obama has been had.

As Lewison writes:

The political implications here are obvious: caving to the anti-choice right would be a huge let down to everyone who cares about reproductive freedom and access to birth control. And given that 99 percent of women have used birth control, that’s a lot of people—a whole lot more than the small but noisy group of anti-choice activists who want to ban birth control altogether.

“Moreover, he continues, “there’s absolutely no upside to allowing opponents of the rule to chip away at it; it’s not like they are going to suddenly come out and endorse the rule. They still want it to be repealed.”

The final thing that needs to be said is that if the White House and President Obama cave on this, they will have fallen back into the same old trap of projecting weakness when they are actually in a position of strength. The optics probably wouldn’t be the same if the administration hadn’t already announced the rule, but the fact is, they’ve announced it. Two-thirds of Americans support it. And now that the administration has put the rule in place, they should be proud of it—not contemplating walking it back. Instead of quietly considering weakening the rule, they should be shouting from the rooftops about how great it is. The fact is, that it was one of the most important accomplishments of the administration, and when it comes to women, it will certainly have a bigger impact than the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

I can only add that caving to the Bishops will flout public health, medical evidence, women’s most fundamental human rights, and efforts to undermine unintended pregnancies.

Otherwise, I could not have said any of this better.


Follow Jodi Jacobson on Twitter: @jljacobson


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  • malematters

    Unintended pregnancies could also be curbed by extending coverage of contraception to males. But to ideologues, that is laughable. So it won’t be considered.


    The more we push for women’s rights in the productive world, the more we resist men’s rights in the reproductive world.


    As for gender equality on the whole, see:

    The Doctrinaire Institute For Women’s Policy Research [MALE MATTERS]


  • julie-watkins

    I guess the bishops are just making Too Much Noise, sigh again.

  • julie-watkins

    Disregard evidence that the average male fares no better in society and often fares worse than the average female

    That depends on the rubrics for “no better” and “worse” (& will be different depending on one’s personal conditions) but I’m really struck by the conclusion that seems to be being drawn, complaining about feminism.


    There’s an alternative: both average men and average women have a bad deal in this society with is run by the 1%. When there’s Class War happening, of course the average person (member of the 99%) is going to be exploited. The whole riff about “what’s expected of men” is that they’re trained for “winner takes all”: the rubrics they are trained to play by are that the only good outcome is to become top dog & the bottom dogs are trash.


    On the other hand, the tradition role for women is they are supposed to be nurturning and help people (& be good servants to the top dogs).


    This is so much divide & conquer & helps the 1% keep their power.


    If a lot of men and a lot of women are hurting a lot of that is because the 1% keep sucking up much more than their fair share. I wish you would consider fighting against Government-for-the-rich instead of participating in the divide & conquer nonsense.


  • jodi-jacobson

    Notwithstanding that there are few other methods for men for biological and other reasons, Condoms are pretty widely available… and every unintended pregnancy resulting from consensual sex is the result of a man not correctly and consistently using a condom (yes, I realize they do break, but you get my point).

    Do you have problems exercising your rights to slide one on?

  • steven-earl-salmony

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
    Chapel Hill, NC

  • johann7

    …women not correctly and consistently using ‘female condoms’ (“recptive-partner condoms” would be more accurate) or women being unable to afford the forms of birth control they prefer (hormonal/IUD) or not using them correctly and also refusing to use condoms (I was patently shocked the first time a woman refused to have intercourse WITH a condom but not without – we didn’t have PIV sex, as I insist on condom use; I’ve since heard a few female friends of mine proclaim that they hate condoms and consistently don’t use them, which bothers me a bit, though they’re free to make their own decisions)… I think you’re right about the majority, possibly the overwhelming majority, of cases, but stating that EVERY unintended pregnancy is the result of a man’s refusal to use a condom is just patently untrue.

  • johann7

    This is a troll from a pro-male-privilege group. They’ve become a lot more sophisticated and have adopted some of the language and modified arguments from Second Wave and early Third Wave Feminist theory and research, but the end result is the same old pro-male-privilege bullshit. By the way, be very suspicious any time you see someone using the word “doctrinaire”; it’s one of their favorites these days (I didn’t stop at the title, by the way, I checked out the site; take, for example, the misogynist little picture/caption on the left under the heading “Sexual Harassment”: “‘With this [vulva] I will manipulate your little male brain.’ But all power carries a price tag.). The phrase “Male Matters” is also a pretty big give-away, though, again, one should always check the actual content.

  • colleen

    but stating that EVERY unintended pregnancy is the result of a man’s refusal to use a condom is just patently untrue.

    How about this then:

    A man is at least 50% responsible for every unwanted pregnancy.


  • jodi-jacobson

    If a man is having sex and does not want a pregnancy to result he has a responsibility to wear a condom.  Yes, I realize that both women and men out there refuse to use condoms in many circumstances, and all the rest of what you say being true… that is a different point.  My point is that if you are having PIV sex AND you don’t want to use a condom, then don’t cry about how “badly men are treated” and how “women get pregnant.”



  • crowepps

    I’m not sure what you mean here because I don’t know how you’re using “unintended pregnancy”.

    Are you framing this as the man intends pregnancy, and so doesn’t use a condom, but the woman does not intend the pregnancy?

    Or is that the man is relying on the woman’s affirmation she is using a form of birth control so he does not intend the pregnancy but she does?

    Or is that the man ignores the possibility of pregnancy, and so doesn’t use a condom, and then is upset when a pregnancy results because he took it for granted that was “her problem”?

    It is, of course, absolutely true that on the internet one should avoid the use of words like every, never, always, etc., because there is always that somebody who dredges up the .001% that are different and says, “See, see, it isn’t ALWAYS true!”

    Personally, on what I feel is a vitally important and potentially life changing subject, I agree with your method.  If the man doesn’t want a pregnancy to result, the man will use a condom, and pass up sex with women who don’t want them used.  After all, it’s not just pregnancy at issue, he also needs to protect himself from STD’s.