With the final decision on whether the Obama administration will keep its original policy requiring health insurers to cover contraception without co-payments looming, women’s health advocates fear the president will capitulate to the demands of one of the biggest opponents to the policy: Catholic bishops.

The Catholic bishops’ demands have ranged from asking the policy be stricken “in its entirety” to asking that the decision allow a broad exemption for religious objectors. Catholic leaders have said the existing exemption is “too limited.”

While federal officials such as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have supported the decision, women’s health advocates fear the president might be open to compromising with the politically powerful bishops.

Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel for the ACLU ‘s Washington Legislative Office, wrote on RH Reality Check today that signs are pointing to a possible cave from the president.

Lipton-Lubet writes:

If you read the paper, and you’re among the 99 percent of sexually active women who have used contraception, you might start to worry. According to the Washington Post, “Obama [i]s ‘very sensitive’ to the bishops’ concerns” over the birth control guidelines. The New York Times reported that after his private meeting with the president, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the bishops’ conference, felt “a bit more at peace about this issue than when [he] entered.” Connecting the dots, RH Reality Check‘s Jodi Jacobson and Salon’s Irin Carmon asks whether the administration is going to “cave” to the bishops’ parochial demands.

We know that the bishops, as political actors, have outsized influence; politicians seem to listen to them on reproductive health even though most Catholics don’t. We know that the bishops are savvy with messaging, crying victim whenever someone disagrees with them over public policy (the rest of us call it democracy). And we know that the bishops are leaving no stone unturned.

But we also know that there’s simply no legitimate reason for the White House to create new loopholes that deny countless women birth control. Doing so would let institutions like hospitals, social service agencies, and universities use religion as a license to discriminate against nurses, social workers, teachers – the list goes on. As a nation, we protect religious beliefs, but we concluded some time ago that one person’s religion should not be used to trump another’s civil rights protections.

The bishops recently lost millions of federal dollars for their relief program for victims of human trafficking, because they refused to refer victims for contraceptive services or abortion services.

And a Catholic political action committee recently released an attack ad asking Obama to “meet with Catholic leaders to discuss compromise” on religious conscience laws. The ad accused the president of not seeking “common ground” with religious groups like he promised he would.

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