‘Religious Freedom’: Constitutional Principle or Electoral Politics?
The bishops’ ham-handed lobbying, extreme language and unyielding position have not helped their cause. Bishop Daniel Jenky compared the president to Hitler; Cardinal Dolan of New York insisted that Obama was trying to “strangle” the Catholic church; and others have claimed that they would be forced to stop providing health care rather than comply with the contraceptive coverage requirement.
Nor has the bishops’ cause been helped by the fact that just about everyone understands that Catholics have a right to disagree with the church’s position on contraception, and that providing someone with the means to obtain something that they have a moral right to obtain is also theologically sound practice.
Two weeks of church-sponsored rallies, masses, marches and educational symposia are not going to influence the Obama administration to change its mind about the definition of who is entitled to an exemption from public health policy it deems important to women’s health and society. There are just far too many unintended pregnancies that end in either abortion or children poorly cared for to ignore the problem.
If the bishops, who are so unpopular, were the only worry, the exemption would stay narrow—or be narrowed even further. However, just before the Fortnight began, the Catholic Health Association, which includes over 600 hospitals across the United States, released its comment letter on the contraceptive insurance mandate concluding that the Obama accommodation, which would have had insurance companies implement and pay for the mandate in these hospitals, would not work. It was simply not possible to separate functions so neatly, it claimed, and many CHA hospitals are self insured. Thus, the only answer is to broaden the exemption so that the hospitals are treated the same as the religion itself.