Overreach begets overreach in birth-control debate

20 Feb

There must be some kind of Newtonian law for politics, along the lines of, “For every overreach there is an equal and opposite overreach.” Case in point.

President Obama had been warned: Don’t force religious institutions to offer health-insurance plans that cover contraceptives, and it’s no secret that more than a few religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, teach that using artificial birth control is morally wrong.

But on Jan. 20, that’s exactly what Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced would happen. The Administration’s idea of an olive branch at that point was to give religious-based organizations and institutions, such as Catholic hospitals, universities and charities, a year to figure out how to comply.

The reaction was literally predictable. The American Catholic bishops were ready with their message: This is nothing less than a trespass on the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion.

For the first three weeks, that message reverberated enough to stir up a broad coalition. Not only the usual suspects who oppose the very ground the president walks on, but even left-leaning Catholic leaders, who support the right to birth control, saw this as a classic church-state battle, a war on religion.

Then on Feb. 10, the president announced an “accommodation”: religious institutions would not be required to offer contraception coverage, pay for it, or even inform their employees about it. Instead, women would deal directly with health insurers. The president painted this new arrangement as an effort to balance the concerns of conscience with the rights of Americans to receive the health-care options they wanted.

The Administration avoided words like “compromise” and “climb down,” but that’s what it was. It had overreached and got its hand smacked.

A good number of Catholics and other religious leaders applauded the move at first, but not all and not for long. The bishops and other critics pressed the president, saying the accommodation wasn’t accommodating enough, that it was only window dressing. The war-on-religion rhetoric got louder and shriller.

And that’s when that political law of physics kicked in, because last week—maybe during the House hearings on religious liberty—the fulcrum of the debate shifted from being about freedom of religion to being about church leaders who want to force their morality on the nation. The big media story changed.

Suddenly, the church wasn’t the victim of government imposition but the ones doing the imposing, threatening the reproductive rights of American women. The church leaders had been winning the public debate, but because they did not strategically settle for the win, they handed critics had the opening they needed.

Along the way, critics took shots at the bishops’ for their apparent inconsistencies in what social issues they choose to address or not address, and, inevitably, about the sex-abuse scandals. Could the word “hypocrite” be far behind?

Suddenly, they were the ones who looked overreaching.

The president was amazingly tone-deaf when he issued the initial contraceptive rule. He tried to fix it, but he’ll continue to pay for his mistake whenever an opponent wants to raise the specter of a secularized chief executive, a president who doesn’t share the world view of most Americans, who doesn’t follow “a real theology.” (Hello, Rick Santorum.)

But the president’s critics, particularly the Catholic bishops, overreached when they kept pushing after he compromised because they made themselves easy targets for opponents to raise the specter of power-hungry theocrats who don’t care about women’s health.

Of course, the bishops aren’t trying to get re-elected in November.

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One Response to “Overreach begets overreach in birth-control debate”

  1. stan chaz February 20, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    I’VE HAD ENOUGH! In this Holy War on Religion, of Religion, and by Religion- I SURRENDER! ‘Cause I’m a lover, not a fighter.  Instead…I’m gonna start my OWN religion, and get in on the good stuff: tax exemptions, and lots of taxpayer money to do what I want, in the name of religious liberty. Most definitely! Hey NEWT -wanna join? We’re gonna have open marriages and multiple wives and all SORTS of neat stuff that you’re just gonna love! But don’t you worry Newt: we’ll have no -I repeat- NO nasty stoning of adulterers in OUR religion. None of that stuff. I Promise! As for SANTORUM, he just LOVES to tell other people how they should live. He’ll make us a REAL fine preacher-man. In fact, not pnly will we make him Saint Santorum….but we’ll ALSO fix his Google search results! As for Mr. Obama,  it’s obvious that we’ll need to (severely) demonize him, even further. And his dog Toto too. Last but not least: MITT and RON. Hmmm. Hey, I know. Just for you two guys: if you join, we’ll insist on NO TAXES AT ALL for our church members…AND human sacrifice of illegal aliens. Tear out their hearts! Televised! Live! Whoooppee! WHAT A COUNTRY!  🙂
    By the way, please don’t mention the REASON that Mitt Romney’s dad was born in Mexico (i.e. The fact is that Mitt’s Mormon grand-dad left the United States in the 1880’s. He went to Mexico BECAUSE laws against polygamy were passed in the U.S. ; And being a Mormon back then, Mitt’s grand-dad just wanted to keep his multiple wives. Hey, who wouldn’t?) Therefore, if we follow the “logic” of the people crying crocodile tears about a non-existent “war on religion”, then the U.S. should have allowed polygamy (and who knows what else) just because a particular religion claimed it as their cherished belief. GIVE ME A BREAK! Or better yet… a TAX-break…for my new religion!
    The bottom line is that absolutely NO ONE is coming into our Churches or places of worship and trying to tell believers what to believe…..or forcing them to use contraception. BUT If the Bishops (and other denominations) want to continue running businesses that employ millions of people of varying faiths -or no “faith” at all- THEN they must play by the same rules and rights that other workers have and enjoy (…especially if their businesses use our tax dollars (and skip paying taxes) in the process). This is not a “war on religion”. Never was. It’s a war BY religion on women and men who simply want to plan their families and control their future, and keep their jobs and health insurance. Now that’s REAL religious liberty!
    p. s. I come from a religious background. I know that their are MANY good people out there, in various faiths (and outside of those faiths)…many good people searching for answers, searching for community, searching for a way, in this all-too-harsh world. There’s only one thing I can say to you: think for yourself, be yourself, trust yourself. Don’t just accept something because it comes from a “voice of authority”. Ultimately, YOU are responsible for your life. That’s why you have a conscience: to choose, not just to follow….

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