a few comments on the contraception and “religious freedom” argument underway
I am following the argument between the Catholic Church and the Obama Administration over how Catholic hopsitals and other non-church Catholic institutions are to pay for contraception. It is a fascinating debate about religious freedom from government, health-care, contraception (which I must say I cannot believe we still fight over), but also the role of religion in government.
I am presuming, since the argument has been made by the Church that this is a religious freedom fight, that today’s compromise requiring insurance companies and not employers to cover the costs will resolve the issue. The Church has claimed this is not political, it is not about the services, it is about the Church’s freedom of conscience, and so this should just about wrap that problem up.
Anyway. There has been much written on this subject. And I wanted to share a few things that I have valued as I learned about the subject.
New York Times blogger Andrew Rosenthal: In case you haven’t been paying attention – and I guess I wouldn’t blame you – the issue is this: The rule exempts religious institutions, like churches, but not religiously affiliated institutions, like Catholic hospitals, that serve the general public. Some social conservatives are calling this an unconscionableassault on religious freedom, since Catholic doctrine prohibits women from using artificial contraception.
It’s pure election-year shenanigans, led by Republicans who want to make Mr. Obama seem godless. There are already 28 states with similar rules in place, and the Catholic Church continues to operate in all of them (last I checked, anyway).
Sarah Kliff (whose work on the Komen debacle and this issue has shown what modern internet journalism can be) at the Washington Post: Outside the political punditry, most Catholics agree with the administration on the issue,” says one Obama campaign official, explaining the view that this could be a political win.
And a lot of this likely isn’t about Catholic voters at all.
Rather, it may well be about the demographics that are most supportive of this particular health reform provision: young voters and women. In the PRRI poll, both groups register support above 60 percent for the provision.
New York Times Opinion Page, Linda Greenhouse: These institutions, as well as Catholic universities – not seminaries, but colleges and universities whose doors are open to all – are full participants in the public square, receiving a steady stream of federal dollars. They assert – indeed, have earned – the right to the same benefits that flow to their secular peers. What they now claim is a right to special treatment: to conscience that trumps law.
But in fact, that is not a principle that our legal system embraces…
In a 1990 decision, Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court disagreed. Even a sincere religious motivation, in the absence of some special circumstance like proof of government animus, does not merit exemption from a “valid and neutral law of general applicability,” the court held. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the opinion, which was joined by, among others, the notoriously left wing Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.
Star Tribune Opinion Page. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, member of the Minnesota House.: The church, with one hand, waves the bus of government through the intersection of Church and State, and into your choice of spouses; with the other hand it seeks to halt otherwise free access to contraceptive health care for its employees.
In lamenting the requirements for equal birth-control coverage for women, a spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops bewailed, “Government has entered the sanctuary.”
Is it ironic that this holy hand-wringing comes just as those same bishops seek to stand in your polling booth on the issue of marriage?
Daily Beast blogger David Frum: If the audience is paying attention, for example, it will notice that Republicans are not proposing to allow employers and plans to refuse to cover blood transfusions if they conscientiously object to them (although there are religious groups that do). Or vaccinations (although there are individuals who conscientiously object to those as well). Or medicines derived from animal experimentation. (Ditto.)
No, Marco Rubio’s Religious Freedom Restoration bill provides for one conscientious exemption only: contraception and sterilization.
Which means it will be very hard if not impossible to persuade the target audience that this debate is not in fact about contraception. Everybody quite sure that’s a wise debate to have?
And finally, for TRC the worst part here is not the argument that the government is overreaching into areas where the government has no legal or moral right to be. The story is the opposite: the Catholic Church is once again attempting to insert itself from the pulpit into policy making. The Church can disregard modern science and the irrefutable preference for contraception all it wants. But it cannot keep our government from providing Catholics and non-Catholics with services it opposes. The Church is opposing access to women’s birth control services, and that is a fight it is going to lose.
Mary Sanchez in the Chicago Tribune. The truth is, the desire to control, to assert one person’s view of morality over another’s choices, is coming from the other direction — from religious conservatives who see this as a skirmish in a new culture war. It’s being played that way because it’s politically expedient to do so in 2012, an election year.
The backlash is an effort to limit a women’s right to have access to health care, including the right to make decisions about reproduction. If that reminds you of the abortion issue, you’re not alone. That was the old cause. This is the new one. Access to contraception is the next target for religious conservatives bent on their version of morality trumping individual rights.
This isn’t primarily about the separation of church and state. Health care is the issue. It is a woman’s right to have access to contraception if she so chooses. And that means including it in prescription drug coverage.
And those “feminist allies” Buchanan talks about. Who are they?
When it comes to users of birth control, it’s nearly every woman in America.