February 6, 2012

Obama Administration's Contraceptive Rule: Much More Than a Gaffe

President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
A number of conservative commentators and pundits said that with the healthcare vote in March 2010, President Obama had crossed the Rubicon—a “Socialist Rubicon,” so to speak. He now believes—and acts—as if he is above the law; the Constitution no longer applies to him, they said. Well, now we can officially say that the Obama administration, with the new federal rule requiring religiously affiliated universities, hospitals and charities to provide free coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives (including the morning after pill and sterilization), has crossed another Rubicon—an anti-religious one—in dealing with the Catholic Church (and other faith communities).

The rule, which was announced on January 20 by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, was defended by the White House last Tuesday. And obviously, Catholics, who regard contraception as a sin, disagree, and see the new rule as a blatant violation of religious freedom—to the point that Roman Catholic officials are mulling a possible legal or legislative challenge. After all, let’s not forget that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion, and that this freedom is transgressed when a religious institution is required to do something that directly violate their religious convictions...

Was it a gaffe? Yes, in a way. As Peggy Noonan put it, his decision on Catholic charities makes Romney’s big gaffe—his interview with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, in which he said, “I’m not concerned about the very poor”—look trivial:

Every criticism has been true. It was politically inept, playing into stereotypes about Republicans and about his own candidacy. It was Martian-like in its seeming remove from the concerns of everyday citizens. We're in a recession here! It was at odds both with longtime American tradition and with rising conservative concern over the growth and changing nature of what used to be called the underclass.
So: inept.
But the big political news of the week isn't Mr. Romney's gaffe, or even his victory in Florida. The big story took place in Washington. That's where a bomb went off that not many in the political class heard, or understood.
In other words, the Catholic Church was told this week that its institutions can't be Catholic anymore.
I invite you to imagine the moment we are living in without the church's charities, hospitals and schools. And if you know anything about those organizations, you know it is a fantasy that they can afford millions in fines.
There was no reason to make this ruling—none. Except ideology.

Except ideology, that’s it. That’s the way things are. “That’s why we call him the socialist president,” said a Catholic blogger. From this point of view, the “incident” was not tactical but strategic, and it was much more than a gaffe.

On the eve of Tuesday’s Florida Republican primary, GOP Senator Marco Rubio, who is Catholic, introduced legislation that would prevent the government from requiring contraceptive coverage if it violated the religious beliefs of the sponsoring individuals or entities. But Catholics are not alone in this. Let’s take just a couple of examples: a) the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America “joined their voices with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and all those who adamantly protest the recent decision by the United States Department of Health and Human Services;” b) more than 40 non-Catholic religious organizations including Protestant-affiliated colleges, National Association of Evangelicals, Focus on the Family, Assemblies of God, Northwest Nazarene University, and Eastern Mennonite University, sent a letter (.pdf) to the White House demanding religious protection against the newly issued HHS contraceptive mandate.

And this is probably just the beginning.