The U.S. bishops this week continued a scorching rhetorical response to the recent H.H.S. decision to maintain a narrow religious exemption for contraception requirements in new health insurance plans, but some reporters have noted a small problem with all the outrage. Primarily its absence in previous years as Catholic employers grappled with state requirements regarding contraception and health insurance. At least 28 states require that contraception be included in health plans; of these 19 states offer some form of a religious exemption and/or secular pass on contraception. What many people are wondering now is exactly what have Catholic institutional employers been doing in states without exemptions. Are some perhaps not even aware of what is in the fine print of their health plans? (I would not be in the least surprised.) Have some come up with strategies that could prove workable at the national level or have they simply acquiesced to state regs as the lesser of two evils?

This issue appears to have flown under the radar for a long time, leading some to suspect that the outrage worked up by the bishops this week derives more from a general antipathy to Obama than fury at H.H.S. It could be that many bishops simply weren’t aware of the laws regarding contraception and health insurance in their states until the federal involvement brought the issue to their attention.

I think it is fair to say that the administration is doing a terrible job of explaining this decision to those Catholics who are striving mightily to remain supporters of the president. Still, it’s hard to believe the H.H.S. call reflects a conscious strategy aimed at reducing religious expression and boxing out the Catholic church as some allege, but the administration is not helping clarify its position with its rope-a-dope strategy, waiting for the bell to sound and hoping I guess that the issue will blow over.

I think they are seriously underestimating the damage this issue could do by November. They may have decided that left-leaning Catholics have little choice but to vote Obama (the same is true of course of the pro-choice community) or that the Catholic swing vote is not as numerically important to them in this election cycle as it was in 2008.

This would have been an easy call to make on principle alone, given the fact that progressives have no where else to turn in November, especially so soon after the Supreme Court’s Hosanna-Tabor decision gave clear primacy to the free exercise of religion. Perhaps it was made on principle, just not one that the bishops would find agreeable: that with contraception so widely used in American society and with many seeing it as the lesser evil to abortion (even presuming that Plan B and Ella do not work as advertised but as abortifacients) that this new policy on women's "preventive" care could not be hamstrung by political window dressing in service to Catholic sensibilities.

But if that’s the case, then the administration does not clearly understand the Constitutional implications of its new policy, basing it on what is socially expedient (from its perspective), not on what is constitutionally defensible and I think they will lose if this matter is brought to the Supreme Court. Having taken lefty Catholics along for this truly disagreeable ride (please note the noxious revival of classic American anti-Catholic bigotry this conflict is stirring up on various websites), I think Obama will lose again when the voting booths open. He may win in November anyway, owing to the weakness of the GOP field, but his re-election is not the only thing at issue any longer. This poor call also jeopardizes public support for the Affordable Care Act, which will take years to fully roll out and which may end up the collateral damage in this fight no matter which side “wins.”

Comments

ed gleason | 1/31/2012 - 2:06pm
"Senator Rubio has introduced this bill in the Senate.'  Will the outspoken bishops embrace Rubio and his tea party allies? Yeah I afraid so ... and slip further down the slide toward irrelevance.
suggestion for Bishops' Lent... give up ALL public initiatives.. hunker down with the disadvantaged..repeat for ten more years ..
Thomas Piatak | 2/1/2012 - 8:10am
David Smith's last comment is exactly right:  "Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this lies in what it points to in the future. This particular bump in the road can easily be solved by the administration giving in a bit, but that they didn't bother to do that in the first place suggests that the winds of sentiment among progressive politicians is blowing hard against organized religion. What's next?"


Joseph O'Leary | 1/31/2012 - 11:05pm
"Many seeing it as the lesser evil to abortion" - I wonder how many Americans think of contraception as an "evil". That is a Catholic hang-up, and even Catholics generally think that using contraceptives is a morally laudable act.
Joshua DeCuir | 1/31/2012 - 6:20pm
"My point, there and here, is that even when the pope noticed the beam in our eye, the bishops making so much noise about insurance said nothing almost (not quite) to a man."

Again, I simply disagree.  I recall, as well, some spirited debate about the so-called doctrine of preventive war, and many were arguing AGAINST folks like George Weigel on the basis of USCCB statements.  Indeed, here's a link to a document that discuses the Bishops' position on the war.  It notes FOUR separate statements against the war.  www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/iraq.shtml

Nonetheless, the point remains - the President's policies foretell a narrowing of the First Amendment right to free exercise.  These policies would propose that access to the public square is dependent upon approval by the Federal government (controlled by whatever party in power at the time) of your social doctrines.  Indeed, it could actually lead to a curtailment of the prophetic voice of the Church on issues such as war or poverty.

It just seems to me that many here are either so blinded by loyalty to the President or by hatred for the hierarchy that they are unwilling to see that this decision - in the first instance - is NOT about the Church's position on birth control, but rather about the right of any institutional Church to participate in the public square, on its own terms, as intended by the First Amendment.  That is all this is about - end of story.  Even someone as liberal as Jonathan Chait understands this: http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/01/obamas-contraception-problem.html

"Now, to be clear, I think the Church’s prohibition on contraception is absurd, and I’d like contraception to be as easily available as possible. But the importance of contraception to health insurance is relevant because the broader question is sorting out the line between a religious organization’s right to its own theology and the rights of nonbelievers, and the burden of sacrifice here seems out of whack."
T BLACKBURN | 1/31/2012 - 4:01pm
Josh, I cited the Vatican position specifically in the third paragraph of my #2 way up above. My point, there and here, is that even when the pope noticed the beam in our eye, the bishops making so much noise about insurance said nothing almost (not quite) to a man.

 "Prayers for peace" may oppose aggression. Or they may encourage success at it. The words and context are important. If you had reakl prayers against aggression at your church, check and see if the pastor has been moved.
Joshua DeCuir | 1/31/2012 - 3:36pm
''I heard not a peep from pulpit or chancery office about the two, representartive, ropes put over us.''

We have a very different recollection of those events, because I remember the Holy Father sending a personal representative to meet with Pres. Bush about the war.  I also recall prayers for peace in our local Church.
John Hayes | 1/31/2012 - 1:39pm
Senator Rubio has introduced this bill in he Senate. Now the issue can be resolved by the normal political process if two-thirds each of the Senators and the Representatives support the bill – or more than half each plus the President.
1 SEC. 3. AMENDMENT TO THE PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE
2 ACT.
3 Section 2713 of the Public Health Service Act (42
4 U.S.C. 300gg-13) is amended by adding at the end the
5 following:
6 ‘‘(d) CONSCIENCE PROTECTIONS.—
7 ‘‘(1) IN GENERAL.—No guideline or regulation
8 issued pursuant to subsection (a)(4), or any other
9 provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable
10 Health Care Act, or the amendments made by that
11 Act (Public Law 110-148), shall—
12 ‘‘(A) require any individual or entity to
13 offer, provide, or purchase coverage for a con-
14 traceptive or sterilization service, or related
15 education or counseling, to which that indi-
16 vidual or entity is opposed on the basis of reli-
17 gious belief;
18 ‘‘(B) require any individual or entity op-
19 posed by reason of religious belief to provide
20 coverage of a contraceptive or sterilization serv-
21 ice or to engage in government-mandated
22 speech regarding such a service.
http://rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve/?File_id=3c291825-857a-4b2d-b108-1ca8c983be94
T BLACKBURN | 1/31/2012 - 1:16pm
Joshm, (#12), where were the bishops when we stqrted an unjust, by definition, aggressive war in Iran? Where were they when we made torture an instrument of national policy? The letter that was read in our diocese was over the top hysterical about, as you say, one thread. I heard not a peep from pulpit or chancery office about the two, representartive, ropes put over us.
Joshua DeCuir | 1/31/2012 - 12:32pm
" The HHS decision was petty and stupid. Civilization will go on, and Catholics who were shaken in their pews last Sunday will have forgotten the cause of their terror by November."

Tom Blackburn - I commend to your recollection the tale of Gulliver and the Lilliputian strings.  No one string was sufficient to do him in, but the combination of the thousands of tiny strings was sufficient to tie him down.  So it is with the slow erosions of our liberties and rights; no one seems to notice one small piece here or there; it is their combined effect that is detrimental.
Rick Fueyo | 1/31/2012 - 12:16pm
If the Supreme Court follows its existing precedent, the bishop should not be successful if they challenge his ruling on religious liberty grounds.  The recent decision had to do with ministerial personnel. In this case, HHS has recognized a conscience limitation for ministerial personnel. The issue is whether the church is entitled to a broad ranging exception even for non-ministerial personnel. I don't believe anything within the court's existing jurisprudence would mandate that.

As for the Bishops' selective outrage, this appears to be just the latest example of the primary driving principle in the last two years for pronouncements "Ad Majorem GOP Gloiam"
Marie Rehbein | 1/31/2012 - 11:19am
While a majority of bishops might consider this an important issue, I rather agree with Amy (#5) that they mostly like talking about sex.

It should not be forgotten that this ruling that contraceptives be covered by insurance appeases the same group of people that would like to have abortions covered by insurance.  Given that the bishops won on the abortion issue, it would be smart if they left the contraceptive issue alone.

I wonder how bishops in China manage to coexist with the one-child policy?
Tom Maher | 1/31/2012 - 10:42am
Tom Blackburn (# 7)

So's your father arguments do not explain the Obama Admisntration tone deafness to religious issues in America is prevasive and telltale throughout his administration.  Not appreciating the importance of American religious life and institution is not expected of an American President.

You do understand and appreciate the core value of religious tolerance and acceptance of religous differences in American politcal life don't you?  How then do you explain the Obama's lack of accommmodation and even hostility toward the church institution?  And not only the Catholic church by the way   The Obama Justice Department oppose the freedom of religon issue in the recent Hossanna Tabor Evagelical School and Church v EEOC whcih religion won in 9 -0 decision.  How come the Obama admistration is always on the wrong side of these religion issues?  Is ist not in large part that he does not get it becasue he is not gorunded in American life and not content to leave religion alone as the Supreme Court decided?  Why wasn't the Catholic Migration Services contract renewed by the State department after all these years of services?  

How do you explain the Obama's adminstrations pattern of non-accomodate to religious instituions and non-exemption of religious insttutions?  Do you think the voters will not become aware of these failure in an election year and want to know why? 
T BLACKBURN | 1/31/2012 - 9:58am
Tom Maher's contribution is too silly to comment on. Obama went to school in Indonesia until age 10. (One of the schools there was Catholic, by the way.) And are we going to attribute to ignorance all the misunderstaments W Bush utterated? Lets's be somewhat serious. Or is he kidding?
Tom Maher | 1/31/2012 - 9:47am
Obama when running for President oin 2008 he made a remarkable and telltale statment that was recorded on tape and frequently replayed.  He said we are going to take this campaign to all 57 states.  But it is basic common knowldege there are only 50 states which is an important parameter to know when running for President.  But remarkably  Obama did not know the Uniterd States has 50 states.   How could that be? 

Obama was educated in his formative years from six to eleven years old in Indonesia where instruction were not even in English.  Basic concepts and values about America that we all take for granted such how many states we have and how and what America is all about Obama was not exposed to.   His mother tutored him at night in English so he could retain his proficiency in the English language whcih he was starting to lose from disuse.  Effectivey Obama was being taught in his formative years how to be Indonesian citizen.  His mother finally realized the impact of Obama's Indonesian education was limiting him amd not preparing him for life in America.  Obama mother sent Obama  back to Hawaii at age eleven to contiue his education.  But Obama permanently lost five years of basic education in and interactions with American society and culture needed to understand America and its unique civic values.

The key civic attitude in American life of religious tolerance and accommodation is missing from Obama life experience.  Religious exemptions are trivial issue and that can be easily dealt with.   But Obama can not recognize the basic core American value involved.  He  has not been taught or exposed to fundemental core American values and their importance.   Obama does not know the fudamentals of American political life, 
Amy Ho-Ohn | 1/31/2012 - 9:11am
Suppose HHS required Catholic institutions to provide employees with the required insurance plan (i.e., the one which includes contraception) but pays for some small fraction of the cost for employers who have religious objections to things.

The government already pays for contraception for Medicaid recipients. It would be like giving the employees "honorary partial Medicaid." It could be only for employees whose incomes fall below some threshold. I mean, whose incomes are so low that buying contraception would be hard for them. Other employees would be required to pay the small fraction of the cost personally.

It could be portrayed as a temporary measure. After the election, the whole thing could be renegotiated calmly and rationally.

I think the policy is wrong-headed, and I know the bishops think they have a winner here. But it's a distraction. The election should be about the economy, unemployment, the deficit, the future of Social Security and Medicare, effective financial regulation and things like that. Talking about contraception is an excuse to talk about sex. Talking about sex when you should be talking about money is irresponsible. (Obviously, it's a lot more fun.)
Thomas Piatak | 1/31/2012 - 5:42am
The bishops are right and Obama is wrong.   And Kevin Clarke is right that Obama is seriously underestimating the damage this will cause him politically.
John Hayes | 1/31/2012 - 12:24am
Kevin Clarke said: "What many people are wondering now is exactly what have Catholic institutional employers been doing in states without exemptions."

One example is the diocese of Madison. It has been providing insurance covering contraception nice 2010.

See here:
 http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/article_e1bbab64-a4c7-11df-b26c-001cc4c03286.html 

According to the  article the diocese could have avoided covering contraceptives by self-insuring but decided it would be more expensive to do that – so it decided to buy insurance that covered contraception.

See also the diocesan paper:

http://www.madisoncatholicherald.org/opinion/editorial/1595-2010-08-19-editorial.html

The fact that Bishop Morlino has done this seems to make clear that, in his judgment at least, providing insurance for contraception is at most remote operation in evil and can be done in order to achieve an important good (providing health insurance for employees).

This is, of course, very different from the view expressed by Bishop Olmstead that "We cannot - we will not - comply with this unjust law" 

http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Olmsted-on-HHS.pdf
T BLACKBURN | 1/30/2012 - 9:07pm
I was all for the bishops' position until I heard the letter the local ordinary wrote for last Sunday's Masses. It was so over the top that I thought, for a moment, that the HHS decision shredded the Constitution - as when President Obama concluded he can kill American citizens without a trial if he does it with a Hellfire missile from a drone.
 The insurance issue is important, but it is nowhere near as  important as the hierarchy is making it. Then I remembered the Freedom of Choice Act, which the bishops hyperventilated over, and how it was going to be Obama's first act in office unless every Catholic man, woman and child sent a tendentious postcard. I forgot to send the postcard, but FOCA was never heard from again. That was much ado.
 Having swallowed a camel when we began an aggressive war - which the pope denounced as unjust after sending an emissary to warn the president he would do so, not that the bishops paid much attention - the bishops are gasping and burping over a gnat. And not for the first time.
 I would hate to think it makes a difference who is backing the camel and who is flying the gnat. I would prefer to thing the hierarchy collectively pays only intermittent attention to events.
 The HHS decision was petty and stupid. Civilization will go on, and Catholics who were shaken in their pews last Sunday will have forgotten the cause of their terror by November.
JIM MCCREA | 1/30/2012 - 8:20pm
When the church-going and non-church going Catholics go to the polls in November and decide for whom to vote, I doubt sincerely that this brouhaha that seems to be of high concern in blogs like this, and most likely in diocesan papers, will have much bearing one way or the other when someone decides whether to vote for or against Obama.
In the list of important things that will cause people to vote as they do, this matter will not make most people’s Top 10.
” — the issue is the bishops’ right not to sign the checks that pay for other people’s contraceptives, — ”
If the bishops drop healthcare because of this they will have to increase employees’ salaries and wages commensurately. Some of that increase may indeed go to purchase the things that bishops don’t like. Are they going to stop “signing the check” for salaries and wages as well?
The church, i.e., the bishops, is not going to win this one. They can only shoot themselves in the other foot – and the only one they have left is the right one, the one that governs their politics.