Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law grad who spoke out in support of free access to contraception last February, downplayed the importance of President Obama’s proposed compromise with religious groups on birth control coverage almost one year later.
In an interview with ABC News, Fluke said today’s announcement that religiously-affiliated organizations like universities would not have to pay to cover employees’ contraception was “actually not that big of a departure” from what Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services laid out when they instated mandatory co-pay-free coverage of contraception for women as part of Obamacare last summer.
Those plans exempted houses of worship from providing insurance that covers birth control, but did not make a special accommodation for institutions with religious ties. Georgetown, where Fluke got her degree, is a Jesuit university.
Today’s plan sets up a system under which insurance companies are expected to provide employees of these institutions with a separate insurance plan for contraception — but the institutions would not have to pay any money or supply staff so the service can be provided.
“It’s another step in the rule-making process, and it adheres to what the president has laid out as his important criteria, and that, I completely agree with him on,” Fluke said.
The new rule shouldn’t deny coverage to women who work at these religiously-based organizations, but it will be important to see how the proposed rules are implemented, according to Fluke.
“From my perspective…this needs to be — in the words of the proposed regulation today — seamless, so that women don’t accidentally not get that second plan or that they don’t not get signed up correctly or not realize they need to sign up,” Fluke said. “The religiously-affiliated institution shouldn’t have any role in that. It should be the insurance company’s responsibility.”
Some anti-abortion advocates have said this exemption still is not enough, because it does not offer protection for individual owners of secular businesses who have a religious objection to medical contraception.
“That’s a really extreme view of what the kind of balance should look like. That’s expanding over health care coverage decisions of potentially any employee for any health care service,” Fluke said, comparing it to a business owner refusing to cover a blood transfusion. “And that’s very out of step with what the American public is looking for.”
Fluke said businesses that are in the “public square” need to “play by the same rules.”
“That means that we offer things like workers comp and unemployment insurance and that we comply with health care regulations,” Fluke said.
Fluke has stood out as a strong voice for the Democratic party since she took flack for her testimony in favor of providing free birth control. At the Democratic National Convention her prime-time call-to-arms helped to galvanize Democrats against Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, whom she portrayed as enemies to women’s rights.