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Coming to grips with the contraception kerfuffle; and Colvin v. DSK

Uploaded: Feb 22, 2012
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.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Catholic, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 22, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Mr. Cushing: Like many, I am really tired of your constant attacks on the Christian faith, and in particular, on the Catholic Church. I am sure you purposefully picked today, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, for your latest attack on my religion. Shame on you.

Your comment, "Who really represents the Church on this issue?" is ridiculous. The Church rules are set by the Bishops and Vatican officials, and our core values and dogma are not changed weekly by popular vote, like some type of reality show.

Fact is, it is offensive for President Obama to try to force his liberal agenda on our religious beliefs and practices. Approximately 20% of all hospital patients in the U.S. receive care from a Catholic run hospital, and millions of hospital employees work for Catholic run hospital. President Obama is trying to force us to abandon our religious beliefs and practices by funding programs and coverages that are in direct opposition to our religion.

I am proud to be Catholic, proud of my religious beliefs, and tired of your hateful rants. I think this very issue may push many Catholics into voting against President Obama in the next election, as he underestimates how important this matter is to us.

By the way, do you have any idea how many students in the U.S. attend Catholic schools, that are funded 100% by the Catholic Church, with no funds coming from the government? The public schools are so overcrowded, so underfunded already, can you imagine how worse off they would be if they did not have the Catholic Schools to greatly reduce the public school population for them?

Do you have any idea how many catholic run charities, orphanages, senior centers, my church funds in the U.S.? Once again, if it was not for my Church, the government would be saddled with even more expenses and debts to try to manage.

But instead of ever writing about all the fantastic things my Church does, you pick Ash Wednesday, to take a cheap shot at my religion, and for my Church standing up to President Obama's attack on our religious practices.

More than ever, on Ash Wednesday, we can only hope, that your columns of hate "are dust, and to dust they shall return".

Posted by Lynn, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I used to look to the Express for local news which I felt more closely reflected the differing and varied views of our area, both conservative and liberal. I am convinced that the Express is also going the way of the "main stream" media and that the editorial staff is promoting a liberal agenda. I too am a Catholic and deeply committed to our faith. I am so tired of being attacked for my faith. I think it is time for a new local publication to be started. One that accurately reflects all views of the area, not just those on the Left.

Posted by Dirk, a resident of Alamo,
on Feb 22, 2012 at 6:44 pm

In the 20th Century we are arguing about the necessity for birth control? This must all be a bad dream. Aside from the obvious need to limit population growth, don't social conservatives realize that with absolute certainty there is an inverse relation between the amount of birth control practiced and the number of abortions performed?

Are religions that promote harmful social agendas, set among others by "Bishops and Vatican officials" still thoroughly stuck in the middle ages, to be immune from all criticism? The Founding Fathers must be rolling in their graves.

Posted by [removed], a resident of another community,
on Feb 22, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Dear Editor and Tom,

We must wonder if commentators read Tom's presentation or simply reacted to the questioning of purpose of points of view. As is often the case, commentators respond to that which was not said.

Certainly, presenting history of religion and birth control can illustate the difference between doctrine and actual practice. Such is fair illustration. What must be decided is the rights of women under our constitution without consideration of religion as separate for matters of state.

A quite simple answer is availability of services without religious restriction. A woman's body is her own decision within her own relationship with the spirit that guides her and the medical professionals that service that guidance.

Is that not just that simple?

Posted by underdog, a resident of another community,
on Feb 22, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I fail to see how this article or the latest issue on contraception is an attack on religion or specifically the Catholic Church. Contraception is a choice, just as religion is a choice. Neither is mutually exclusive for the individual. No church or individual who subscribes to a religious belief is being forced to endorse contraception, only that it be provided for those who choose it. The Catholic Church does a lot of good in the world, without question. But that does not give it the right to dictate its terms or religious beliefs to any individual who chooses not to accept them. If a church wants to do good, as a business, as a hospital, even without tax benefits, the legalities and choices of the individual are not subject to the religious dictates of a church or a religion. Religious belief cannot be enforced and choice for contraception or anything that is legal, is a freedom cherised by Americans not an attack on religion or an enforcement for it to change its beliefs. Perhaps more simply put, priests are not being asked to hand out condoms. Hospitals and health services are merely being asked to provide a chosen health option that all similar institutions legitimately provide.

Posted by Dirk, a resident of Alamo,
on Feb 22, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Yes, "[removed],a resident of another community", it IS just that simple. Now convince Rick Santorum and his ilk and the Catholic bishops of that, and we can all be happy.

Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 23, 2012 at 7:28 am

The Catholic Church is not preventing anyone from buying contraceptives. If you want the pill, get a prescription, go down to Walmart and buy it. Isn?t it really that simple?

I do not subscribe to any religion and certainly cannot understand how anyone can possibly believe in Christianity, let alone the Catholic Church.

On the other hand, do we really need the Federal government telling us what should and should not be included in our private medical insurance contracts?

What?s next? Will the federal government tell us that all health insurance programs must now on cover free broccoli for everyone, as eating broccoli will reduce healthcare costs?

Posted by Bill, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 23, 2012 at 7:32 am

Those that are staunchly Catholic have a real bone to pick with the current administration as they see evil and attacks everywhere when none exists. Taking on an issue such as birth control is so patently ridiculous as to be laughable. It just points out how organized religion and hypocrisy go hand in hand. It takes men to decide what women really need and want so just sit back and take it? OUr constitution provided freedom from religion as well so I don't want the Catholic Church or any right wig evangelical group sticking their nose in my life and business.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 23, 2012 at 9:06 am

Based on the vehemence of commenters 1 and 2, I thought some introspection might be in order. I ran a word-check on these 32 Raucous Caucuses, containing about 25,000 words. The word/root "Catholic" appears four times, three above and once in praise of JFK's brilliant speech to the Houston protestant clergy. Check it out here: Web Link (text), or here: Web Link (youtube). If you run a similar search on this website as a whole, there are more than 500 such references by others. Presumably, many of those were complimentary.

Also, when I am critical of religion -- which I respect, participate-in and also fear, it is never to suggest that others shouldn't believe whatever they want, and govern their lives accordingly. But when religion departs the spiritual realm and enters the public policy sphere in an organized way, then to debate the merits of tenets it seeks to impose on others is (very) fair game, in my view. Important, too, that it not get a special hall pass in that regard, as it is just another Interest Group in the hurly burly of politics. Contraception policy and Prop 8 are two such instances; they evoke my fear.

As to the provision of counterpoint material, ANYone can post to this Town Square forum. I am guessing that Madame Editor would be happy to host such a regular blog in response to my musings, or just on topics of concern to many who sit to my right. It's a big internet -- fire away!

Finally, the blog posted on Wednesday because that's the day it's due. I did not consider yesterday's parochial significance. In candor, it would not have made any difference, as explained above.

Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 23, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Tom, you are so funny.

Catholics and their charities were minding their own business when suddenly out of nowhere the Obama Administration starts dictating the terms of what can and cannot be included in their private health insurance contracts.

Catholics objected and you characterize that as ?imposing their views on others? and entering ?the public policy sphere.?

Isn?t just the opposite occurring? Isn?t the Obama Administration imposing their views on contraception on the Catholic Church and their charities?

Everyone is free to buy all the contraceptives they want. It?s easy and cheap. The Catholic Church isn?t stopping that.

Why don?t you ?big government? supporters stop imposing your values on others?

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm

spcwt, you are so funny! What you describe as "suddenly out of nowhere the the Obama Administration starts dictating..." has been the law in California for over a decade. No one is imposing views on the Catholic Church (by which you mean the male hierarchy of the church, as opposed to its members.) The law simply prevents the top management of institutions like hospitals and colleges - all of which receive government funding, directly or indirectly - from imposing their views on people who work in those institutions and may not share those views.

Why don't you religious zealots stop trying to impose your values on others?

Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Dear Huh?,

This is the first time the Federal government has dictated that private employers like the Catholic Church and its charities must provide contraception coverage to employees in their healthcare plans. They gave no warning that they were going to impose this policy.

The Catholic Church isn?t imposing their views on anyone. As I said, people can go to Walmart and purchase all the contraceptives they want. No one is stopping them.

Finally, perhaps you didn?t read the posts above. I?m not religious.

Apparently you like to comment before knowing the facts. No wonder your name is ?Huh??

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 9:58 am

Requiring the inclusion of an Option -- one sought by 99+% of the relevant customer base, should not be confused with an actual big government imposition on anyone.

Your limitation of your statement to the "Federal" level of government is also instructive. In the year 2000, the State of New Hampshire (motto: "Live Free of Die") enacted an identical requirement for all health plans offered in their state. The legislation was sponsored by (get this) Republicans in the Legislature, and signed by the (this, too) a Democratic Governor! NObody thought to complain about it -- nobody.

Despite this (1) horrible imposition on religious freedom, and (2) ugly display of bi-partisan cooperation in the public interest, neither Judgment Day nor the apocalypse has ensued.

That's Some war.

Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 10:37 am


The apocalypse never came because it?s never going to come. Newsflash: Jesus was just a man. Get over it.

The ?culture war? is partly a subset of the bigger question of how much power you want to give Washington DC to manage our daily lives.

You Democrats generally want to give Washington ever expanding amounts of power to regulate our lives. Fortunately, only a minority of Americans (31%) consider themselves as Democrats.

The vast majority of Americans dislike big government, particularly Washington. We don?t like being told what to do.

So, while we may think Catholics? views on birth control are irrational, we believe their views should be respected so long as they do not prevent people who want to get contraceptives and abortions from doing so. Live and let live.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 10:58 am

You continue, studiously methinks, to confuse an option with an exercise of power. Unless you are a health insurance plan (are they people, too?), nothing, repeat not-a-thing-at-all is being required of you. You, as a living, breathing sexual being may still buy your contraceptives at Walmart, if you so choose.

Please note, Chicken Little, that the sky did not fall on New Hampshire, either.

Posted by Danville Independent, a resident of San Ramon Valley High School,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 10:59 am

When anybody or any organization enters the secular marketplace, they should abide by the secular rules. This is TRULY a case of separating church and state: The religious rights of the Catholic Church (or ANY church, or mosque, or synagogue) end when they begin limiting the rights of others. And I'm speaking as a long-standing Catholic (St. Isidore's) but I strongly believe in the individual's right to birth control.

Do we really WANT a Theocracy here in America? I believe our Founding Fathers thought not: why in the world would we want any health organization invoking religious freedom to limit services needed by their female staff and their families?

Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 11:15 am


Not clear what you mean that I ?confuse an option with an exercise of power.?

The Federal government told the Catholic Church and its charities that the health insurance plans they provide their employees must include free contraception coverage.

In other words, Washington DC told the Catholic Church what to do.

How is that not an exercise of power by the Federal government?

Danville Independent,

What are you talking about? Who is trying to impose a theocracy?

So you?re a Catholic, eh? How can you belong to an organization that teaches Transubstantiation and The Sale of Indulgences? Wake up brother!

Posted by TL Nelson, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 11:45 am

This issue has less to do with religious freedom than it does with economic freedom. What right does the government have to order a private company to provide a good or service "free of charge"?

Our President must think we are nation of morons to believe this policical spin. Insurance companies have, by definition, no money except what they collect from their policy holders.

The President's dicate that all policy holders must pay for birth control whether they personally use it or not is just plain wrong. Regardless of whether you think it is morally wrong, this is an unfair imposition on the American people.

No one should be forced by our government to pay for something they do not wish to purchase.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 11:48 am

You're slip-sliding around -- you objected that "We don't like being told what to do." And the point is: you're not being told what to do.

Think of it this way, Esquire: as an avowed non-religious person, you lack 'standing' to complain about a requirement that health plans treat their members sensibly.

I hear there's a bluelight special at Walmart, however.

Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 12:32 pm

I?m standing arm in arm with my religious nutjob brethren. This is amicus curiae.

Why? Because I may not be getting shoved around this time, but I?m sick to death of Washington always telling people what to do. So stop picking on the Catholics. Leave them alone. Take your ?do-gooder? agenda someplace else.

P.S. Blue light specials are at K-Mart, not Wal-Mart. Amateur.

Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm

And stop using the word ?methinks.? It makes you sound ridiculous.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Ah, the "They came for the Xs, but I'm not an X so I did nothing" argument. That's mighty big of you, Citizen. Your reward will be ... on Aisle 3.

You Are right about my shopping -- strictly, passionately 'amateur.'

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I think thou dost protest too much. Verily.

Posted by Catholic, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 1:50 pm

SPCWT: I am not a "religious nutjob", but rather a proud Catholic, who loves my religion, my faith is very important to me, and I am tired of the Tom Cushings of the world who think it is acceptable to write his hate piece about my faith on Ash Wednesday. Cushing reminds me of a liberal professor I had at Santa Clara Law School over 20 years ago, who complained that there was a crucifix on the wall at this Jesuit, Catholic University.

First, the government thinks they can mandate that Catholic run institutions must offer health insurance that covers services that are directly in opposition to their core religious beliefs. When they challenge this, the Tom Cushings of the world attack them, and attack their actual religious beliefs, with his flippant comment about "who actually speaks for the Church".

What is next, is the government going to tell us that we can not allow the blessed wine sacrament be given during mass to anyone under the age of 21? I am sure Mr. Cushing would jump into that fray, writing a piece, maybe on Easter, attacking Catholics for challenging the government. After all, apparently Mr. Cushings believes that our founding fathers had no concerns about government interfering with our right to practice our religion, and our right to religious freedom, without government intrusion.

But, SPCWT, appreciate the Amicus Curiae brief. Reach same decision, for different reasons.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Darn it -- just when the mood was lightening up a bit...

I'm aghast that we're entertaining this conversation on the Feast Day of St. Modestus. That said, I can assure my fellow Danvillain that I am neither a plural, nor a strawman on whose positions he is free to speculate. I'll find me-own words, thanks. There'll be enough there with which he may take issue.

I do, for example, think it's worth considering whether a doctrine that is honored in the breach by the entire flock, less 1%, should be considered a "core religious belief" of that group. The Bishops may believe it, but they have isolated themselves on this issue, with a few amici and other fellow travelers who have their own reasons. I am very confident that the 99% will vote their actions, in the booth and in the pharmacy.

I also think that since these health plan requirements have been around at the state level for more than a decade, there is something other than piety that drives the current indignation. Folks are welcome to self-examine on that score.

Posted by C. R. Mudgeon, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 27, 2012 at 10:34 am

I actually don't view this issue as being primarily one of religion. The underlying core issue is whether the government can force organizations to behave as the government wants, and be forced to pay for things that the government decides are "good for us".

By requiring health insurance companies to offer ONLY policies that include/cover contraception, the government is effectively forcing anyone who wants health insurance to also pay for contraception coverage. It is one thing to require health insurers to offer at least some plans that include contraception. It is another thing entirely to require that ALL plans include contraception. This basically takes away our freedom of choice.

If the government can require that ALL health plans provide contraception coverage, then there are all sorts of other things that they could require health plans to do, such as:

- require rate discounts based on weight or body-mass index
- ban coverage for smokers
- and, dare I say it, require coverage for abortions.

All of the above may well make sense for an insurance company to offer as options, or to offer plans of various types, with and without specific coverages. But to require ALL plans to behave in a certain way represents a huge attack on personal freedom and liberty.

Posted by Mark Patrick Brown, a resident of another community,
on Feb 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm

I see that C.R. Mudgeon is using the slippery slope argument. I believe that the "government can force organizations to behave as the government wants, and be forced to pay for things that the government decides are 'good for us'".

The United States is a republic, in which it's power to govern, is exercised by representatives chosen directly by its citizens. Once upon a time, our over reaching government required auto makers to install seat belts (it took years to do so). We, the people, were given the opportunity to voice our opinion on such a requirement, through the ballot box.

I think that on November 6th, the people will render their verdict. I believe that the vast majority will conclude that this is a contraception issue, which has little to do with first amendment rights.

Rick Santorum brags, "One of the things I will talk about is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country...Many of the Christian faith have said, 'Well, that's okay.' It's not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual relm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." To which I take notice and say, "I also believe in the slippery slope argument."

I lament that the cultural war that is being waged by Senator Santorum is a war I thought was settled on this particular issue. I thought it was settled when the Brits dropped the big one on us, the 1964 invasion of the Beatles. Now, it's 1956, all over again, and the cultural crusaders want us to listen to Pat Boone records.

If you want to come to the public arena of healthcare, the affiliates of the Catholic Church have to play by a different set of rules. And this is coming from a proud Catholic, who values contraceptives and the power of the ballot.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 1, 2012 at 6:36 am

I love Mr. Cushings comments in this fairly entrenched right wing Republican community. I also love to see the few liberals incense the Catholic flock that rush to defend the right of the minority to inflict it's biased and religiously based ideology on the rest of us. They don't want separation of Church and State that want the religious folks to tell the rest of us how to behave, how to control our bodies and what place a women should have in our society. The Santorum supporters in this community are about to crash and burn.

Posted by C. R. Mudgeon, a resident of Danville,
on Mar 1, 2012 at 9:23 am

Regarding Mark Patrick Brown's comment on my post - I understand your point that laws are passed all the time that limit choices, with seatbelt laws being one example. And you're right - this is to some extent a "slippery slope" argument. A strict Libertarian (which I am not) might argue that seat belt laws are also an infringement of personal liberty. But there ARE significant differences between this situation and seat belt laws. 1) Seat belt laws are state law(s), and there is nothing in the US constitution that would allow the federal government to impose a seat belt law. (Which of course is also part of the argument against the federal government's involvement in many areas...) 2) One of the legal arguments in support of state seat belt laws is that they are only applicable on public roads, and therefore it is OK for the state (or local govts., for that matter) to establish rules related to use of those roads. You cannot be forced to wear seatbelts while driving on your own private property.

Tom Cushing keeps trying to say that this is only about requiring the OPTION of contraceptive use. But of course that contention is missing the point, and is misleading (whether he is intentionally choosing to mislead, or doesn't understand the issue fully, I don't presume to know). Sure, individual employees are free to decide either to use, or not use, the option of contraception. But the real issue is that by requiring all insurance companies to include free contraception as a benefit in ALL of their offered plans, they are effectively forcing the Catholic Church to pay for the benefit. It would be different if the law only required insurance companies to offer at least one plan that included free contraception (although arguments could also be made against even this, more limited law). Then market forces would decide if insurance companies would offer a "without contraception" versions of their plans, to organizations such as the Catholic Church that have objections. Once again, the folks who claim to be about "choice" want there to be only one choice - theirs....

For the record, and not that it is anyone's business - I am not Catholic, and my spouse and I have used various forms of contraception throughout our lives, several of which are/were not acceptable to the Catholic Church. I say this only to avoid the inevitable comments about wanting to "force my religious views on others"....

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