Did Obama Thread the Needle on Contraception Mandate?

Interesting how the media narrative can change really fast. This morning Obama was “boxed in” on his administration’s contraception mandate, caught between reproductive rights advocates (and regular folks via the polls) telling him to stand fast and a host of friends and enemies telling him he had to cave.

Yet the “compromise” he announced, which will require insurers to supply free contraceptives to employees of institutions refusing to offer such coverage on their own dime, got immediate endorsements from both the Catholic Health Association–representing the institutions whose employees were most affected by the whole issue–and Planned Parenthood.

No word just yet from the Bishops, who are already semi-on-record rejecting anything short of a mandate repeal, or at least an extremely broad “conscience clause” exception that includes non-institutional employers. Republican pols, of course, are all on record favoring not only repeal of the mandate, but of the entire health reform legislation that is the subtext for the whole dispute.

One thing is for certain-sure: Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the CHA, who made today’s positive statement about the mandate as modified, is going to come under a withering attack for “selling out” her church, just as she was when she endorsed health care reform back in 2010.

But make no mistake: it just got an awful lot harder for conservatives to frame the mandate (as now formulated) as an assault on religious liberty that will drive Catholics back into the catacombs–or even affect the operations of Catholic hospitals and charities. Indeed, it will look a lot like one of those interminable disputes between “modern” and “traditionalist” Catholics–with the latter backing a church hierarchy with a rather notably reduced credibility these days–in which Catholic lay opinion is decisively, if often quietly, with people like Sister Keehan who actually do the charitable work of the church.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.