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(Breaking news: President Obama just moments ago provided a brilliant compromise to the contraceptive controversy, as I mention at the end of this piece. I wrote this before he made the announcement, but the arguments still hold and they bear remembering. These are the kinds of battles we'll go on fighting, and a major victory such as today's doesn't mean the war is over. Not by a long shot.)
So today let's take a look at what some of the good people have been saying about this whole Catholic Bishop's Contra Con -- that huffy-puffy outrage over a mandate forcing insurance providers to cover contraceptives for free in every workplace, including Catholic-owned institutions that hire non-Catholics and receive outside funding. Those places that are not churches. Those places that already offer prescription birth control drug coverage, but with the usual prescription co-pays.
John Aravosis at Americablog caught the paragraph in USA Today that clearly shows their real motive. It is to remove all coverage of all contraceptives: (Thank you, John, and the others who caught it and are emphasizing it. This may be the most important revelation in this whole phony story.)
That was no consolation to Catholic leaders. The White House is "all talk, no action" on moving toward compromise, said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "There has been a lot of talk in the last couple days about compromise, but it sounds to us like a way to turn down the heat, to placate people without doing anything in particular," Picarello said. "We're not going to do anything until this is fixed."
That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for "good Catholic business people who can't in good conscience cooperate with this."
"If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I'd be covered by the mandate," Picarello said.
Sarah Seltzer, in a great AlterNet piece called, "How Zealous Clergy and Their Media Enablers are Manufacturing a Controversy over Birth Control", repeated a startling quote from 2010:
"I don't want to overstate or understate our level of concern," said McQuade, the Catholic bishops' spokesperson. "We consider [birth control] an elective drug. Married women can practice periodic abstinence. Other women can abstain altogether. Not having sex doesn't make you sick."
(Can't you just see millions of men, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, going, "Hey, man, what are you doing? Shut up! Just shut UP!")
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones writes about his early ambivalence in "Why I'm feeling so Hard-Nosed over the Contraception Affair":
". . .I simply don't believe that the religious objection here is nearly as strong as critics are making it out to be. As I've mentioned before, even the vast majority of Catholics don't believe that contraception is immoral. Only the formal church hierarchy does. What's more, as my colleague Nick Baumann points out, federal regulations have required religious hospitals and universities to offer health care plans that cover contraception for over a decade. (The fact that some such employers don't cover birth control is mostly the result of lax enforcement.)"
In a New York Times piece,Gail Collins, starting with a devastating admission by her mother-in-law, writes eloquently about the need for this to be a right for all women:
We are arguing about whether women who do not agree with the church position, or who are often not even Catholic, should be denied health care coverage that everyone else gets because their employer has a religious objection to it. If so, what happens if an employer belongs to a religion that forbids certain types of blood transfusions? Or disapproves of any medical intervention to interfere with the working of God on the human body?
Organized religion thrives in this country, so the system we’ve worked out seems to be serving it pretty well. Religions don’t get to force their particular dogma on the larger public. The government, in return, protects the right of every religion to make its case heard.
Leah Berkenwald at MsBlog writes about John Boehner's promise to kill it all if the president doesn't back down:
This morning, House Speaker John Boehner vowed in a House floor speech to overturn the provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) that would require faith-affiliated hospitals and universities to include birth-control coverage in their employee health benefits. The provision, Boehner argued, “constitutes an unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country.”
Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress follows Rick Santorum as he leaps at the chance to demagogue the "Religious freedom" argument:
SANTORUM: They are taking faith and crushing it. Why? Why? When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what’s left is the French Revolution. What’s left is the government that gives you right, what’s left are no unalienable rights, what’s left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. What’s left in France became the guillotine. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re a long way from that, but if we do and follow the path of President Obama and his overt hostility to faith in America, then we are headed down that road.
"There isn't a constitutional issue involved in this case," he told MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell on Wednesday. "You don't exempt religious employers just because of their religion. You are not asking anybody in the Catholic church or any other church to do anything other than simply comply with a normal law that every employer has to comply with."
Steve Benen, in a MaddowBlog piece called "It's about Contraception, not Religion", reminds us again why Rick Santorum should never, ever become president:
Rick Santorum argued several months ago, "One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country.... Many of the Christian faith have said, 'Well, that's okay, contraception is okay.' It's not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."
Thank you to Jean Shaheen, Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray, good women of Congress, for spelling out why this mandate makes sense. And to the Wall Street Journal for publishing their message.
Those now attacking the new health-coverage requirement claim it is an assault on religious liberty, but the opposite is true. Religious freedom means that Catholic women who want to follow their church's doctrine can do so, avoiding the use of contraception in any form. But the millions of American women who choose to use contraception should not be forced to follow religious doctrine, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.
Catholic hospitals and charities are woven into the fabric of our broader society. They serve the public, receive government funds, and get special tax benefits. We have a long history of asking these institutions to play by the same rules as all our other public institutions.
So let's remember who this controversy is really about—the women of America. Already too many women struggle to pay for birth control. According to the Hart Research survey cited above, more than one-third of women have reported having difficulty affording birth control. It can cost $600 a year for prescription contraceptives. That's a lot of money for a mother working as a medical technician in a Catholic hospital, or a teacher in a private religious school.
In a move to bring some reason to this argument, 24 religious leaders; Christians, Jews, Muslims, signed a letter declaring solidarity with President Obama and the HHS:
"We stand with President Obama and Secretary Sebelius in their decision to reaffirm the importance of contraceptive services as essential preventive care for women under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and to assure access under the law to American women, regardless of religious affiliation. We respect individuals’ moral agency to make decisions about their sexuality and reproductive health without governmental interference or legal restrictions. We do not believe that specific religious doctrine belongs in health care reform – as we value our nation’s commitment to church-state separation. We believe that women and men have the right to decide whether or not to apply the principles of their faith to family planning decisions, and to do so they must have access to services. The Administration was correct in requiring institutions that do not have purely sectarian goals to offer comprehensive preventive health care. Our leaders have the responsibility to safeguard individual religious liberty and to help improve the health of women, their children, and families. Hospitals and universities across the religious spectrum have an obligation to assure that individuals’ conscience and decisions are respected and that their students and employees have access to this basic health care service. We invite other religious leaders to speak out with us for universal coverage of contraception."
This is just a sample of the arguments for a look beyond religious objections to birth control for women. They are the arguments that caused President Obama, just moments ago, to spell out the brilliant, elegant compromise that should address the concerns of both sides. Any religious institution that finds objection to providing their female employees with an insurance policy that covers birth control can now opt out of paying for it. But thanks to Barack Obama and his administration, women in America will no longer have to worry about how they'll pay for contraceptives. They will be free to any woman who needs them.
So let the politicizing begin -- the mewing of kittens against a lion's roar. This is not a religious issue, it's not an Obama issue, it's not simply a women's issue. It's a human rights issue, and what's at stake is the real definition of freedom.