Obama vs. Catholics: Walking the contraception tightrope

            The Obama health care plan’s showdown with Catholic institutions belongs in what my husband calls the “too hard file.” … Continued

            The Obama health care plan’s showdown with Catholic institutions belongs in what my husband calls the “too hard file.”

            I’m usually clear on what I think about things, but in this case I can see both sides.

            The Obama administration, led by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, has mandated that all employers, including certain religious institutions such as hospitals and universities, provide the whole health-care package for all employees, which includes access to contraception. It specifically says that abortion is not covered (According to the FDA, the morning after pill is not an abortifacient.) and churches and other places of worship do not have to provide for contraception coverage.

            The Catholic Church is up in arms. Its leaders maintain that having to provide coverage for contraception is against Catholic beliefs and say that, in good conscience, the church cannot agree to that provision. They point to religious freedom as the reason they should not have to comply.

            Let’s first consider the side of administration:

            It is true that 98% of Catholic women have at some point used birth control and Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as other women. That is not irrelevant. 

            The church talks about religious freedom, but what about women’s freedom? These are not CEOs who need to be insured. These are working women who often cannot afford birth control on their own. Contraception allows women to live their lives, stay in school, contribute to the work force, stay off welfare, and, most importantly, it reduces the number of abortions. It has been estimated that it would cost the institutions 15 to 17 percent
more
not to provide these benefits because of medical problems associated with pregnancy, miscarriages and lost work time.

            Would more people be hurt by not getting Catholic services (which they would not get only if the church refused to serve them because of the health care bill), or would more women (and therefore families) be hurt by not getting contraceptives?

If we are talking about the religious practices of 2% of women being the reason why 98% of women who are Catholic (or of other faiths) being denied the means to contraception, is that really right? Is it really in the best interest of women, families, the country or even the Catholic Church? 

            Those who disagree with the HHS plan say that if people want contraception, they shouldn’t work for religious institutions.  How realistic is that? Are they all supposed to quit their jobs? These institutions are serving and employing millions who may not have the same beliefs. Should those people be discriminated against?

            Plus, more than 28 states already have identical religious employer exemptions.

            More than 20 major religious leaders support the Obama administration on this issue, as does Catholics for Choice. In a statement issued Wednesday, these leaders wrote: “The administration was correct in requiring institutions that do not have purely sectarian goals to offer comprehensive preventive health care. Our leaders have the responsibility to safeguard individual religious liberty and to help improve the health of women, their children, and families. Hospitals and universities across the religious spectrum have an obligation to assure that individuals’ conscience and decisions are respected and that their students and employees have access to basic health care service.”

        While the HHS  rules cover all employers, not just those taking taxpayer money, many of the religious institutions objecting to the mandate do use public money in some way.  People with religious objections must watch while tax dollars are spent on executions and wars which violate their beliefs and their consciences. Yet executions and wars continue. And while churches may be vocal opponents of these actions, where is the public outcry from the faithful? 

            One of the most important arguments for the health care mandate is that so many opponents are from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which is male-dominated and celibate. This is a tiny minority of unmarried men making the decisions about the quality of life for millions of women. That makes no sense.

            All these arguments should easily move this issue from the “too hard file,” but the church position makes some good points, too: 

If some Catholics, and those of any faith, truly believe that contraception is a sin, we cannot ignore that despite the fact that we have a country in which separation of church and state is sacrosanct. One of the reasons for separation of church and state is to protect the church as well as the state. It is important to be respectful of all religious groups. To ask religious institutions to go against a core belief and their spiritual conscience in this fashion is unjust.

        So what is the answer?

        President Obama’s spiritual advisor, the Rev. Joel Hunter, has said, “this is fixable and we want to get into the conversation.”

            David Axelrod, a senior advisor to the president’s campaign, said this week on on MSNBC, “We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms, so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions.”

            The bottom line is that this issue has suddenly blown up into political crisis. Republicans are milking it, accusing Obama yet again of a “war on religion” and trying to turn America into a “secular” nation. This is ridiculous, of course, but is playing well. It’s not just strict Catholics who are disaffected. Those who are totally supportive of contraception are feeling unease about a perceived disrespect for matters of religious conscience. Evangelicals have joined the chorus, as have Hispanics, who are 16% of the population and a key voting bloc in the 2012 campaign. This has become a political issue and the White House understands that.  This has become about votes and it’s probably not worth losing the election over.

            Even the most fervent supporters of the White House ‘s position have reconciled themselves to a compromise.

The question is this: If the administration folds and the Catholics get an exemption, what are we to do about the women?

Lisa Miller: Whose conscience will win out?

Quote of the day: Santorum on his pro-life position

About

Sally Quinn Sally Quinn is the founding editor of OnFaith.
  • rjb327

    Sally, when you said that you could see both sides of the argument, I can only infer from the post that seeing the Church’s side means recognizing it and dispatching it as if you were freeing yourself from a cobweb after walking into it. The argument here is not about contraception as much as it is about the limit of government and its abridging citizens’ first amendment rights.

    If this stands, what is to stop this or future presidents from dictating what journalists can or cannot right? Extreme example today, to be sure, but what happens when you, your husband or Quinn (who will really be affected by Obamacare) need a service that this law deems unnecessary or too expensive? Answer: it will be too late because the entitlement will be entrenched and the lemmings that allowed to happen will be shocked, shocked! They will then return to the salons of Washington and contract with private physicians and lament how the poor suffer.

    This action by the HHS is just the tip of the Obamacare iceberg as too many who supported are now realizing. It is a true disservice to the country that they sit by silently, comfortable in their thinking that they can conveniently blame Obama and throw up their hands and decare that nothing can be done but to continue to feed the beast.

    I fear for the future my children and grandchildren as we steal their prosperity by mortgaging tomorrow.

  • dbeharry

    From a legal perspective, there is no close call at all. The freedom to exercise religion without interference from the state is constitutional. The “right” of women to have contraceptives or abortion included in their health care coverage is statutory or, in this case, regulatory. In deciding between the two, there is no contest. The constitutional right prevails.

    There are a lot of people who question whether the government has the right to dictate what the terms of any insurance policy ought to say, and many more who believe that even if it has that right, it shouldn’t exercise it. That’s a different question, but it does reflect the difference between the two “rights” at issue.

  • mulberrybank

    What about the religious freedoms of the female employees?!

  • frankyburns

    Can someone help?
    My own religious conviction is that God punishes us with disease and rewards us with good health, and that it is a sin to ever try to intervene in his will medically.

    Now I realize that my freedom of my religion/conscience allows me to strip practically everything out of my employees’ pay packages in terms of their health choices. But what about the cash portion of their pay packages? How can I control what my employees do with their cash? Because certainly I don’t want them doing sinful things with it. They might actually take medicine or see a doctor. GOD FORBID! Please help, this is weighing on my conscience and I can hardly sleep nights, thinking about what my wages might be paying for.
    PPLEEASE help, because it is a religious crisis for me and a Constitutional one as well, concerning my freedom of religion.

  • momshugs

    What is left out of this discussion is that benefits are a contractual part of the compensation package! Employees normally pay all or part of the employers’ group plan premiums to insurers chosen by employers who can deduct their share of the cost of providing insurance. Only a few employers self-insure or pay 100% of premiums. Health insurance is considered part of employee compensation that also benefits employers by maintaining a healthy workforce.

    Workers Comp & Unemployment insurance were also imposed on employers by federal law… for the same reason – to maintain a ready, healthy workforce. It would be helpful to readers if columnists would compare the political outcry back then.

  • Alison6

    Sorry you don’t agree with the Catholic Church on this one. I personally don’t agree with a lot of things that various religions espouse. Could you please ask President Obama to fix that for me. Apparently that’s his job….

  • martywpost

    This was an extremely foolish issue to address in an election year. To me, it makes me wonder if this president really cares about re=election. He make so many moves that give the republinots rallying support from their most ardent supporters. Dumb move. O should have waited until after the election.

  • persiflage

    I think you’re wrong here – SCOTUS would never take up this issue because of the flood of relgious faith issues that would immediately follow – especially if they found in favor of the Catholic Church . What’s different about this and the imposition of Sharia Law mandates, over and above civil statutes? None……………….

    The difference practically speaking is that the Catholic Church can threaten to close all their healthcare agencies if they don’t get their way.

  • persiflage

    Catholic Church hierarchy and the GOP fit together hand in glove – we don’t need further confirmation of this. Republicans are so desparate to take over control of Washington that they will jump on any wedge issue that surfaces and make it their own.

    Organizations and corporations over individuals……..that’s the power struggle that we’re currently seeing. The Catholic Church is not a person………although you’d never know it.

    I can see the Vatican from my house……but then, so can almost everybody living in the USA,

  • CAN50

    Just curious – I wonder if these public institutions run by religious organizations (not, I would say, religious institutions) cover other procedures, e.g. vasectomies, which would violate certain beliefs Catholic church.

  • hdr76

    Employees don’t often pay the full amount of the premium – FYI
    Not sure I understand your point here – yes you can impose on employers and for that matter employees – the point is whether you should if it violate conscious. In this case of the institution providing the benefits.

  • AlfromFl

    One wonders what women and men did when abortion was illegal and health care was between the doctor and the patient? In any case, most arguements on this matter deal with rationale rather than principle or the constitution which is how this country has gone down the slippery slope of moral decay. However, the obvious solution is to reinstate the conscience clause and quit trying to make the taxpayer pay for those things that are not suported by all taxpayers. Where there is a need, you will find someone who will provide it – insurance in this case. This president has shown a complete disrespect for religious liberty and the constitution. I do not believe he has the authority to mandate to an industry what is to be covered and what price to charge as well. Nothing is free, so the charge will be passed on to those who have health insurance – so what is different between the two approaches the president has presented? Many new rights have sprung up to take away liberties of the people under the guise of helping us.

  • Lehde

    It is simply not true that 26 or 28 or 27, I’ve seen all three numbers used, states mandate the same contraception and moring after abortion coverage that Obamacare requires. You can include it in the democratic talking points every day till the election and it won’t make it so. No state requires religious employeers to provide FREE coverage of those services, rather they have to be avaliable and the employee can then choose them and pay for them via a co pay themselves. If the Obama Administration had concluded that morning after pills are basic human right then let them say as much and begin distributing them through some govenment agency. This is damn poor practice on the President’s part. and some sloppy campaiging to boot.

  • vbanow

    The perception that Emergency Contraception does not cause abortion is misleading and ambiguous. The SPRM drug RU-486 is believed to be an abortifacient by the European Medicines Agency. Your link to the FDA site did not specify an opinion on this but even if it did, it would not necessarily satisfy. The perception of a large number of Christians is that enabling its use is immoral. To say the government has a sufficiently compelling case to warrant overruling this perception would be a stretch. For a department secretary to do this unilaterally is way out of line.

    The irony of this “Too hard” case is that it did not need to be hard. Just because employers 70 years ago decided to get involved in health care for employees to get around a government mandated freeze on wages, doesn’t mean it should be maintained. Senator John McCain wanted to abolish the tax advantage for employer provided health plans but Obama would not have it. Instead of removing the carrot, he added a stick (the penalty for not participating) … Big mistake.

  • VirgilBanowetz

    The perception that emergency contraception does not cause abortion is misleading and ambiguous. The SPRM drug RU-486 is believed to be an abortifacient by the European Medicines Agency. Your link to the FDA site did not specify an opinion on this but even if it did, it would not necessarily satisfy. The perception of a large number of Christians is that enabling its use is immoral. To say the government has a sufficiently compelling case to warrant overruling this perception would be a stretch. For a department secretary to do this unilaterally is way out of line.

    The irony of this “Too hard” case is that it did not need to be hard. Just because employers 70 years ago decided to get involved in health care for employees to get around a government mandated freeze on wages, doesn’t mean it should be maintained. Senator John McCain wanted to abolish the tax advantage for employer provided health plans but Obama would not have it. Instead of removing the carrot, he added a stick (the penalty for not participating)… Big mistake.

  • VirgilBanowetz

    On the cutting edge here is the issue of forcing self-insured hospitals to provide emergency abortion pills. Many will insist that when a religiously affiliated employer selects health care services for employees, it is imposing religious beliefs on nonbelievers if the service does not provide for abortion/contraception services. This implies:
     Having to pay for abortion/contraception services with your own money is an imposition of religious beliefs.
     An employer has a moral obligation to buy health care services the President wants even when it believes the service is not morally correct.

    Many would find these implications outrageous, and the clamor on this issue has placed the President in a bind of his own making. His insistence on requiring employers to participate in health care was flawed on many levels. When he was running for his first term he stated publicly that he did not want to take employers out of the health care business as McCain wanted.
    The implications of that choice are as follows:

    (1) An employer must distract its focus from what they charter themselves to do and hire government mandated personnel to deal with personal health care of employees.
    (2) The policy perpetuates an elite class of people (the haves). Those working for a small business, the self employed, and the unemployed are the have-nots. The government has to deal with these two classes of people and the inequity it promotes. (Employee health care is bought with pre-tax dollars; individual health care is generally bought with post-tax dollars).
    (3) When a government mandates what an employer must buy, it must specify what it includes. Government employees have to decide whether these policies must cover abortion, contraception, body piercing issues, etc. Absent a government mandate for employers, market forces would provide individual options to buy insurance for these services for those who want it. No one would be forced to pay for immorality.
    (4) The penalty for not buying the mand

  • VirgilBanowetz

    Sorry for the double-post. The first post appeared to fail. My bad.

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