The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) praised President Obama’s decision to back off a newly announced and highly controversial requirement for religious employers to provide free birth control coverage even if it runs counter to their religious beliefs.
The president said Friday that instead, workers at such institutions will be able to get free birth control coverage directly from health insurance companies.
The new policy, the president said, protects women’s health by ensuring they have seamless access to birth control without expensive co-pays while providing accommodation to religiously affiliated employers.
“As Latinas, we support President Obama’s change to the religious exemption clause,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of NLIRH. “The new approach puts a priority on women’s reproductive health by eliminating the barrier of co-pays. Any public health policy that gives Latinas easier access to contraception is a step forward for us.”
The president’s decision marked an effort to defuse an election-year political uproar that threatened to overtake his administration.
Although the administration had originally given itself more than year to work out the details of the new birth control coverage requirement for religious employers, the president acknowledged that the situation had become untenable and demanded a swift solution.
Congressional Republicans as well as GOP presidential hopefuls were beating up on Obama relentlessly over the issue, and even Democrats and liberal groups allied with the Roman Catholic church were defecting.
Policies that restrict access to contraception are in direct conflict with the health care that Latinas are seeking.
"Religious liberty will be protected and a law that requires free preventative care will not discriminate against women," Obama said in a brief appearance in the White House briefing room.
"I understand some folks in Washington want to treat this as another political wedge issue. But it shouldn't be. I certainly never saw it that way," Obama said. "This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been sorting through some very complicated questions."
"After the many genuine concerns that have been raised over the last few weeks, as well as frankly the more cynical desire on the part of some to make this into a political football, it became clear that spending months hammering out a solution was not going to be an option," Obama said.
According to NLIRH, Latinas face a number of barriers to reproductive health, including language barriers, immigration status, lack of insurance and poverty.
More than half of Latinas ages 18 to 34 report that the cost of prescription birth control has kept them from using it consistently, according to Hart Research Associates.
“NLIRH research shows that Latinas want the full range of birth control options to be available to them,” the organization said in a press release. “Birth control use is nearly universal in the United States, including among sexually experienced Catholics.”
“Policies that restrict access to contraception,” the group said, “are in direct conflict with the health care that Latinas are seeking.”
In its announcement, the White House said that "nearly 99 percent of all women" use birth control at some point, but that more than half have trouble affording it.
"Under the new policy. . .women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she works," the White House said in a statement. "The policy also ensures that if a woman works for religious employers with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to offer contraceptive care free of charge."
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican from Florida, commended the change in policy.
“It’s good that the President reaffirmed that the federal government cannot force faith-based institutions to provide services that they teach are wrong,” Rubio said in a statement. “This issue exemplifies the problem with putting the federal government in charge of health care.”
This story contains material from The Associated Press.