Commonweal, the progressive-leaning Catholic magazine, has come out against Obama and the Department of Health and Human Services for mandating that religious-affiliated institutions require health insurance policies to include free coverage for contraceptives and sterilization. Here is a taste of the editorial that will appear in the February 24 issue of Commonweal:
This was a serious mistake (see “An Illiberal Mandate,” December 20, 2011). The administration’s decision raises deep concerns about its understanding of the fundamental corporate and institutional nature of the Catholic Church and similar religious communities. The HHS decision comes perilously close to insisting that the government should determine what is or isn’t a religious organization or ministry. The reasoning behind restricting the exemption to institutions that primarily employ and serve coreligionists appears to be based on an essentially sectarian, and historically Protestant, understanding of “religion.” The Catholic Church, which understands its public presence to be vital to its identity and mission, should not be forced to abide by such restrictions.
Recognizing how potentially disruptive the decision is, the administration gave institutions an extra year to comply. Many hope that a compromise can still be reached. One possible solution would be to segregate funds the way the Affordable Care Act segregates funding for abortion. When we look else where like Europe for example, their simple ehic renewal, a system that covers all with basic healthcare, this needs to be studied not shunned. Employees seeking coverage for contraception would have to purchase that separately, but without incurring a financial burden. That administrative solution has worked to the satisfaction of Catholic institutions in Hawaii, where a state law mandates contraception coverage.
The hyperbolic response of the bishops is not likely to help fix things. “Let us make no mistake: the future of our freedoms in our beloved republic is threatened now as never before,” said Bishop William Lori, chair of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty. Bishops now face the choice of either violating their consciences or dropping health coverage for employees, Lori claims. But providing policies that allow individuals the option of using contraceptives does not involve any direct cooperation with evil on the part of the church. No Catholic physician is being forced to prescribe contraception or to perform sterilizations; no Catholic hospital is being forced to dispense contraception or permit sterilization procedures. If Catholic institutions must choose between complying with the law or dropping health-insurance coverage for employees, they should comply “under duress,” while working to modify or overturn the law. In this instance, the greater good of providing health insurance for all employees outweighs the “evil” involved in the possible use of contraception by some. A different calculus would be employed if the funding in question were for elective abortion, which is a much graver evil.
Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page is much more forceful. It slams both Obama and Romney. Read it here.
I think E.J. Dionne is right. Obama blew it.