Tag Archives: contraception

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.

Advertisements

White House announcing ‘accommodations’ for religious objections to contraceptive rule

10 Feb

Today President Obama is announcing new “accommodations” for religious nonprofit organizations that object to a rule requiring them to provide contraception coverage in their employees’ insurance plans. The rule has brewed up a political and PR storm for the Administration since the Department of Health and Human Services announced it on Jan. 20.

While churches were exempted from the rule, other religious organizations and charities, such as hospitals and universities, were not, even those affiliated with denominations that teach contraception is morally wrong. Critics said the rule effectively trespassed on religious freedom.

During a Friday morning conference call with reporters, senior administration officials outlined the new “accommodations,” under which women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where they work. “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,” according to a White House fact sheet.

The officials, speaking on background, said these provisions will be “cost neutral,” pointing out that there were no insurance premium increases when contraception was added to the Federal Employees Health Benefit System and that one study found that “covering contraception lowered premiums by 10 percent or more,” partly because women who use contraceptives typically stay healthier.

So: religious organizations will not need to provide contraceptive coverage or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception. They will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception. Coverage will be offered to women by their employers’ insurance companies directly, “with no role for religious employers who oppose contraception,” according to the White House. Insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge.

The White House has been under fire since announcing the rule last month, with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops leading the charge, saying the administration was threatening religious liberty. Other religious leaders and groups, including Orthodox, evangelicals and liberal Catholics (as well as Republican party leaders and presidential candidates) also joined the opposition.

Administration officials insisted today that a one-year transition for religious organizations, announced Jan. 20, was intended to give time to “work out solutions” in implementation. But reporters pushed back, since the initial announcement stated the one-year period would give organizations time to “comply with the new law” and “adapt to this new rule.” One reporter asked if the White House had “a messaging problem.”

%d bloggers like this: