Tuesday, February 21, 2012

PoliticsUSA: Contraceptive Mandate: Evokes growing chorus of religious dissent, rejection

Religious Freedom concern 

about Obama-Sibelius

contraceptive mandate 

keeps growing 

President Obama's February 10th press conference and other actions by 
his administration satisfied the conscience concerns of some religious 
leaders and organizations but only increased the concerns of many others.

In an "interim final rule" issued last summer, the administration had decided 

to carve out only a very narrow exemption to its requirement that all health 
insurance plans must cover, without co-pays, contraceptives, abortion-
inducing contraceptives, sterilization, and reproductive counseling and 
education.  Churches would be exempted, the administration said, but not 
parachurches — because religious organizations that serve more than only 
fellow believers and that offer more than "inculcation in religious values" 
do not fit the administration's narrow definition of a "religious employer."  
When, on January 20, HHS Secretary Sebelius said that the administration 
was sticking with this narrow exemption despite all of the criticism, the 
uproar dramatically escalated, including loud protests from many liberal 
Catholic allies of the administration. 

Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA)
eNews for Faith-Based Organizations email newsletter (Feb21,2k12)
Stanley Carlson=Thies, editor

IRFA article reposted here by Politicarp
refWrite Frontpage politics columnist

editor, refWrite Frontpage

On February 10, the administration took several actions in response to the furor.  

Without changing anything, it finalized the "interim final rule" with its narrow 
exemption--it is now federal law.  Only churches are exempted from the mandate
 (churches with significant community-service programs might not be, however).

What about parachurch organizations--religious colleges and schools, faith-based 

drug treatment programs, crisis pregnancy centers, and all the wide variety of 
community-serving religious organizations?  The administration said that faith-
based service organizations whose insurance plans currently do not, for religious 
reasons, pay for contraceptives would be able to maintain that exclusion for a year, notwithstanding that the mandate comes into effect for health plans that have a start 
date of August 1, 2012, or later.

And the administration promised to developed a new, separate, regulation for 

parachurch organizations concerned about the contraceptive mandate.  This is to be 
done over the next year (it is not cynical to imagine that the process will not start 
until after the November elections).  Parachurch organizations will not get the 
complete exemption that churches have received. Instead, the President has 
promised what many (even supporters) have called a "fig leaf":  the requirement to 
provide free contraceptives will be transferred from the parachurch organizations to 
their insurance companies, which will notify the employees of this free benefit and 
also will be required (in theory) to absorb all costs of the birth control drugs, 
procedures, and education.  (For more detail, see the story on IRFA's website.)

Many press reports and some religious leaders have hailed this as a great compromise 

that, as the President claims, satisfies both the requirement to respect religious freedom 
and his administration's deep commitment to ensure easy and widespread access to 
birth control.  Any opposition must therefore be due to a hatred of (take your choice):  
the President, expanded access to health care, women, birth control.

A wiser approach is to listen carefully to the growing chorus of serious voices that 

decry the purported compromise as not a real solution for the religious freedom 
problem.  If the government insists on making birth control more easily accessible, it 
must find some other way to accomplish its purpose.

Notable developments since the announcement of the grand compromise:

Feb. 16 hearing of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, 

featuring a Catholic, a Jewish, and several Protestant religious leaders, and also representatives from five religious colleges (2 Catholic, 3 Protestant).  Video and 
written statements are available here. See also the analysis by Joshua Good, 
"Religious Liberty, The Contraceptives Mandate, and Civility," Patheos.com
Feb. 21.

Lawsuits continue to be filed against the federal government.  Suits have now been 

filed by Belmont Abbey College (Catholic), Colorado Christian University 
(Protestant), EWTN (Catholic television network), Priests for Life (Catholic), 
Louisiana College (Protestant), and Geneva College (Protestant).

All of the 181 US Catholic bishops have spoken out against the mandate.

Catholic Charities USA has warned against "mischaracterizations" of its position in 

the media, denying that it has accepted the President's compromise.

A growing number of other Catholic institutions have also criticized the supposed

A long list of scholars and leaders from many faiths (over 300 and counting) has 

signed a letter of protest initiated by Mary Ann Glendon, John Garvey, Robert 
George, Carter Snead, and Yuval Levin.

Family Research Council released yesterday a letter of protest signed by more than 

2,500 pastors and evangelical leaders.

Further ReadingTerry Mattingly, "Frame game:  Mere politics?  Just birth 

control? " GetReligion.org, Feb. 12.

N.C. Aizenman and Lena H. Sun, "Contraceptive rules remain in flux ," Washington 

Post, Feb. 20 (although many states have their own contraceptive mandates, religious organizations can find ways to avoid violating their convictions; the federal mandate 
will eliminate these escapes)

Pew Forum, "Public Divided Over Birth Control Insurance Mandate," Feb. 14.

Maggie Karner, "Where the Women Were During the House Contraception 

Mandate Hearing:  The effort to tarnish religious freedom concerns as sexism is clever 
but wrong," ChristianityToday.com, Feb. 17.

Michael Stokes Paulsen, "Obama's Contraception Cram-down:  The Pork Precedent,

"Public Discourse, Feb. 21.

Michael Gerson, "Clarifying the Basics of Religious Freedom," Capital Commentary

Feb. 17.

"Birth Control Mandate Is About Religious Freedom, Scholar Says," 

ChristianPost.com, Feb. 16 (interview with Stephen Monsma).

Melissa Rogers, "Honoring Religious Objections and Access to Contraceptive Coverage,"HuffingtonPost.com, Feb. 17.  ("It is not the government's job to try to 

determine what is the 'right' understanding of a faith; instead, its job is to assess whether 
the faith practice is sincere and the burden on it is substantial. Having already 
demonstrated an interest in accommodating spiritual obligations, the administration can 
and should consider different understandings of those obligations.")

No comments: