The Controversy That’s Not

Ken AshfordConstitution, Election 2012, Godstuff, Women's IssuesLeave a Comment

Culture wars again?

There seems to be a LOT of misinformation about this latest so-called "controversy" involving the Obama administration and the Catholic Church and birth control.  To hear some people talk about it, you would think that the Obama administration is forcing Catholic institutions to go out and purchase birth control against their will.

Let's be clear: the Obama administration is requiring ALL businesses to provide COMPREHENSIVE medical coverage to their employees.  "Comprehensive medical coverage" includes having no co-pay on contraceptives.  Who is exempt?  Churches.  Who is not exempt?  Religious institutions acting in a secular capacity (a Catholic hospital, a Jesuit university, etc).

Now, the argument goes: the Obama administration is violating the religious liberty of religious organizations by forcing them to provide insurance coverage for something that goes against their tenets.

And it's a specious argument… and here's why.  The "religious liberty" being denied is… wait for it… the right to deny others their religious liberty.  (Read that a couple of times).  After all, nobody is forcing Catholic hospitals to actually provide contraception on demand to its employees.  They just can't deny contraception coverage to their employees who want it.

A Catholic hospital employs (and treats) people of all faiths and backgrounds.  It is non-discriminatory.  Now, all of a sudden, these Catholic institutions want to discriminate (in the name of "religious freedom").

Except that they never complained before.  Most Roman Catholics already agree with the White House in that contraception coverage should be provided for.

A majority of Catholics believe their employers should be required to provide coverage for contraception and birth control, according to a poll released Tuesday from the nonprofit research organization the Public Religion Research Institute.

The poll found that a solid majority of Catholics, 58 percent, say contraception and birth control should be a required, no-cost benefit under their company's healthcare plan.

Support, not surprisingly, is fairly broad among most groups. The only constituency opposed to the coverage in this poll was self-identified white evangelicals. The Public Religion Research Institute released this chart with its survey results:

Secondly, many Catholic institutions already cover contraception in their health care plans. Igor Volsky had a good report on this earlier:

Twenty-eight states already require organizations that offer prescription insurance to cover contraception and since 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control, many Catholic institutions offer the benefit to their employees. For instance, a Georgetown University spokesperson told ThinkProgress yesterday that employees "have access to health insurance plans offered and designed by national providers to a national pool. These plans include coverage for birth control."

Similarly, an informal survey conducted by Our Sunday Visitor found that many Catholic colleges have purchased insurance plans that provide contraception benefits.

Now, Georgetown's religious liberty (to the extent that an school has "religion") isn't being violated simply because it allows its employees to have free will and personal liberty when it comes to birth control.  Does it?  Who wants to make that argument?

But that is precisely the (silly) argument being made.  Why now?  It's an election year.  That's the reason, pure and simple.  It has nothing to do with the First Amendment; it's just a way to attack Obama.