I have been trying to sort out the Great Contraception/Religious Liberties/Women’ Health blemish that has erupted recently. That’s not as easy a task as it ought to be, because this is Silly Season, otherwise known as an election year, and folks on all sides will make whatever hay they can with it. Also, the row arose out of an element of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, and will thus be subject to all the partisan mythology that has been nurtured around that piece of legislation (remember ‘Death Panels?’). The incident raises the question of whether this election will be mostly about The Economy, or whether there will also be a significant overlay of the culture wars.
The controversy begins with an ACA provision that employers provide the option of contraception coverage to employees in their healthcare plans. This seem a sensible requirement, in that ‘prevention’ is almost always more economical than ‘cure’, regardless of the outcome of a pregnancy. (As an aside, I am not impressed with the Viagra/Pill comparison, which is based on a false equivalency of The Act with An Outcome). Contraception is, however, contrary to the dogma of some religions, notably the Catholic Church – and the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause discourages government interference with religious practices.
Upon objection from The Church, the Obama Administration backed-off to the point of excluding churches, but not their affiliated secular institutions (notably hospitals) from the offering requirement. That retrenchment has not placated the Catholic Bishops, who would prefer the assistance of a total ban as they try to patrol the private practices of their flock. It is understandable that they would seek such assistance -- it’s been widely reported that fully 99% of sexually active Catholic women have employed birth control. Apparently, this near-unanimous rejection of doctrine is founded on the time-honored principle that “if you don’t play the game, you don’t get to set the rules.” Who really represents The Church on this issue?
As un-persuaded as the Bishops have been House Republicans, who have threatened to propose that any group, with any objection to Obamacare be exempted from its requirements. It has also encouraged the desperate bombast of Mr. Gingrich, who proclaims that it demonstrates “a war on religion.” That claim must have an odd ring to Jews and others who have actually suffered under the boot of an actual such war. Candidate Santorum has also been emboldened to opine (not to say ‘judge’) the so-called “phony theology’ of the President. And on the Left, women’s health advocates are wading-in to defend the broad concept of ‘choice’ in reproductive matters.
Whether ‘values’ issues come into prominence in this campaign will, I’m guessing, have much to do with the identity of the Republican nominee. Messrs. Santorum and Gingrich have clearly staked their intentions to impose on others their moral precepts, ironically under the banner of liberty. Mr. Romney has been rather less vocal, and may hope the entire social conservatism issue goes away. Mr. Obama appears, here and elsewhere, to stand for options and choices to be made by individuals. However the voting ends up, the contrasts are apparent.
As I have been writing this, two contrasting news stories have broken – about the continuing sexual exploits of former IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the death in Syria of war correspondent Marie Colvin. I am finding their juxtaposition difficult to resolve – DSK, who has apparently had some policy concern for the world’s poor, but who has squandered much of his influence in serial escapades of remarkable debauchery; and Colvin, whose reporting focused on the suffering of innocents in war, and who put herself in fatal harm’s way to ensure that those victims weren’t ignored or forgotten.
I can only marvel at her dedication, and at his reckless dissolution.