Posted by Christopher Johnson | Friday, February 10th, 2012 | Uncategorized | 67 Comments
Desperately trying to put out the fire that he himself set, Barack Obama abruptly announced changes to his contraceptive policy:
Under the new policy to be announced today, women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she works. The policy also ensures that if a woman works for a religious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide, pay for or refer for contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to directly offer her contraceptive care free of charge.
The new policy ensures women can get contraception without paying a co-pay and fully accomodates important concerns raised by religious groups by ensuring that objecting non-profit religious employers will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer women to organizations that provide contraception.
The President will also announce that his Administration will propose and finalize a new regulation during this transition year to address the religious objections of the non-exempted non-profit religious organizations. The new regulation will require insurance companies to cover contraception if the religious organization chooses not to. Under the policy:
Religious organizations will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception.
Religious organizations will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception.
Contraception coverage will be offered to women by their employers’ insurance companies directly, with no role for religious employers who oppose contraception.
Insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge.
Sounds reasonable. Until you begin to think things over..
The plan, put forward as a concession to freedom of religion, was immediately denounced by Catholic Rep. Chris Smith as fundamentally the exact same mandate.
“The so-called new policy is the discredited old policy, dressed up to look like something else,” said Smith. “It remains a serious violation of religious freedom. Only the most naive or gullible would accept this as a change in policy.”
“The White House Fact Sheet is riddled with doublespeak and contradiction,” Smith continued. “It states, for example, that religious employers ‘will not’ have to pay for abortion pills, sterilization and contraception, but their ‘insurance companies’ will. Who pays for the insurance policy? The religious employer.”
For all practical purposes, then, all this plan does is to give the bishops a loophole, a bit of plausible deniability. But for a people for whom Matthew 5:37 is kind of important, deniability is not a feature but a bug. Nevertheless, some liberal Catholics are safely back on board.
Carole Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association said in a statement that the compromise “protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions.”
“This decision shows the White House respects the Catholic community and concerns of diverse religious leaders,” said John Gehring, the Catholic outreach coordinator at Faith in Public Life. “It’s clear that the president worked very hard to protect both religious liberty and women’s health. Those two values should not be in conflict. Republicans leaders and others who have unfairly bashed this administration for being hostile to religion should stop perpetuating that absurd narrative.”
While other Catholics no longer trust the President and see this proposal as the complete and utter sham that it is.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, president of the Catholic anti-abortion organization Priests for Life, said “A resolution to this issue cannot only cover ‘religious’ employers. Religious freedom, which includes freedom of conscience, does not belong only to religious entities but to every American. There are many non-religious reasons to object to the administration’s policy.”
Writing at CatholicVote.org, Tom Crowe was not satisfied with the compromise: “If the religious institution is being required to pay for an insurance plan that subsidizes the insurance company’s efforts to proactively spread information about obtaining contraceptives, and then also pays for the contraceptives, that still means the church is being required to subsidize services and items it deems morally repugnant. The church’s money would still be used to support gravely immoral activity.”
Speaking on “Morning Joe” as news of a potential deal broke, Washington Archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl said: “It’s the administration who has redefined health care. It is the presumption that pregnancy is some sort of health care anomoly that to have, to be pregnant is some sort of illness. [That approach says] we must prevent that illness and so we’ve redefined health care. . . A pregnancy becomes the problem.”
The health insurance industry is leery about the idea of being legally forced to provide contraception for free.
U.S. health insurers said on Friday they feared President Barack Obama had set a new precedent by making them responsible for providing free birth control to employees of religious groups as he sought to defuse an election-year landmine.
Obama on Friday announced the policy shift in an effort to accommodate religious organizations, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, whose leaders are outraged by a new rule that would have required them to offer free contraceptive coverage to employees.
Instead, the Obama administration ordered insurers to provide workers at religious-affiliated institutions with free family planning if they request it, without involving their employer at all. Insurance industry officials said the abrupt shift raised questions over how that requirement would be implemented.
“We are concerned about the precedent this proposed rule would set,” said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s trade group. “As we learn more about how this rule would be operationalized, we will provide comments through the regulatory process.”
While the Catholic bishops check this hand.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sees initial opportunities in preserving the principle of religious freedom after President Obama’s announcement today. But the Conference continues to express concerns. “While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of USCCB.
“The past three weeks have witnessed a remarkable unity of Americans from all religions or none at all worried about the erosion of religious freedom and governmental intrusion into issues of faith and morals,” he said.
“Today’s decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction,” Cardinal-designate Dolan said. “We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”
So where are we? The bishops are wise not to commit themselves. But if they truly believe that that can “work with the Administration,” they are worse than fools.
Because this is pure electoral politics. The concept of free birth control is a bribe, pure and simple, and Obama only came out with these revisions because he’d just handed the Republicans as deadly a weapon as he could possibly have provided them.
Will the bishops sign on? One would hope not. The moment they express their willingness to compromise on this issue, they have just indirectly approved of the idea that health care plans ought to include free contraception.
Once they do that, they will, assuming Obama wins another term, find that not only Christian ministries but Christian churches themselves will be legally forced to provide free birth control to all their employees regardless of Church teaching.