The Washington Post published an editorial on the recent HHS decision that would require Catholic affiliated non-church institutions to offer contraception coverage in employee health plans:
The best approach would have been for HHS to stick to its original conclusion that contraception coverage should generally be required but to expand the scope of its proposed exemption for religiously affiliated employers who claim covering contraception would violate their religious views. The administration’s feint at a compromise — giving such employers another year to figure out how to comply with the requirement — is unproductive can-kicking that fails to address the fundamental problem of requiring religiously affiliated entities to spend their own money in a way that contradicts the tenets of their faith.
Those who argued against the broader exception pointed to the fact that this move would deny free contraceptive coverage to hundreds of thousands of women who had no religious objection themselves but simply happened to be employed by a hospital, say, with a religious affiliation. They note that 28 states already require employers to include contraceptive coverage; of those, 10 have no exemption for religious institutions.
That is all true, yet the significance of the new health-care law is that the federal government will for the first time require all employers to provide insurance coverage for their workers — in other words, to spend their own money to help underwrite this coverage — or, in many cases, to pay a penalty. In this circumstance, requiring a religiously affiliated employer to spend its own money in a way that violates its religious principles does not make an adequate accommodation for those deeply held views. Having recognized the principle of a religious exemption, the administration should have expanded it.
The Wall Street Journal explores the anger on the so-called Catholic left at the Obama administration for this decision:
The irony, of course, is that the ruling is being imposed by a Catholic Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, working in an administration with a Catholic vice president, Joe Biden. A few years back the voluble Mr. Biden famously threatened to "shove my rosary beads" down the throat of those who dared suggest that his party's positions on social issues put it at odds with people of faith. Does he now mean to include Mr. Winters, Cardinal Mahony and Father Jenkins?
Catholic liberals appreciate that this HHS decision is more than a return to the hostility that sent so many Catholic Democrats fleeing to the Republican Party these past few decades. They understand that if left to stand, this ruling threatens the religious institutions closest to their hearts—those serving Americans in need, such as hospitals, soup kitchens and immigrant services.
Conservatives may enjoy the problems this creates for Mr. Obama this election year. Still, for those who care about issues such as life and marriage and religious liberty that so roil our body politic, we ought to wish Catholic progressives well in their intra-liberal fight. For we shall never arrive at the consensus we hope for if we allow our politics to be divided between a party of faith and a party of animosity to faith.
I suspect that this directive from the administration will have little effect on the (non-existent) Catholic vote come November, and I further believe that come 2013, when the law is set to go into effect, the newly re-elected Obama administration will broaden the exemption anyhow. This could simply be fuel to help fire up a somewhat apatehtic base in the months leading up to an election.
Michael J. O'Loughlin