Sometimes, you have to wonder if the uber-brains in the Obama administration/re-elect team are so bored with merely running the country that they try to challenge themselves by making matters more difficult than need be.
Last week was one of those times. Just in case Obamacare — to which President Obama hardly referred in his State of the Union address/campaign speech — didn’t seem like enough of a liability, the administration declared that all employer health-insurance plans will have to cover sterilization, contraceptives and abortifacients. There will be no exception if an employer is a religious group whose doctrine opposes these things. Among other things, it was the latest sign that President Obama’s infamous promise about his health-care reform — that you could keep your present coverage if you liked it — was an example of active deception.
(One assumes there will be no retroactive decisions by fact-checkers like Politifact to name that Obama line — and not the GOP criticisms of Obamacare — the “Lie of the Year” for 2009 or 2010. It’s little consolation that Obama’s line is the leader in the clubhouse for Lie of the Century.)
Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson calls [note: link is now fixed] the decision “the most transparently anti-Catholic maneuver by the federal government” in more than 135 years:
Obama chose to substantially burden a religious belief, by the most intrusive means, for a less-than-compelling state purpose — a marginal increase in access to contraceptives that are easily available elsewhere. …
The implications of Obama’s power grab go further than contraception and will provoke opposition beyond Catholicism. Christian colleges and universities of various denominations will resist providing insurance coverage for abortifacients. And the astounding ambition of this federal precedent will soon be apparent to every religious institution. Obama is claiming the executive authority to determine which missions of believers are religious and which are not — and then to aggressively regulate institutions the government declares to be secular. It is a view of religious liberty so narrow and privatized that it barely covers the space between a believer’s ears.
The New York Times’ Ross Douthat points to an even broader implication of the new regulation:
A number of religious groups, led by the American Catholic bishops, had requested an exemption for plans purchased by their institutions. Instead, the White House has settled on an exemption that only covers religious institutions that primarily serve members of their own faith. A parish would be exempt from the mandate, in other words, but a Catholic hospital would not.
Ponder that for a moment. In effect, the Department of Health and Human Services is telling religious groups that if they don’t want to pay for practices they consider immoral, they should stick to serving their own co-religionists rather than the wider public. Sectarian self-segregation is O.K., but good Samaritanism is not. The rule suggests a preposterous scenario in which a Catholic hospital avoids paying for sterilizations and the morning-after pill by closing its doors to atheists and Muslims, and hanging out a sign saying “no Protestants need apply.”
Maybe the GOP line about Obamacare’s amounting to a “government takeover of health care” will turn out to be not such a “lie” after all. As Douthat goes on to note:
The regulations are a particularly cruel betrayal of Catholic Democrats, many of whom had defended the health care law as an admirable fulfillment of Catholicism’s emphasis on social justice. Now they find that their government’s communitarianism leaves no room for their church’s communitarianism, and threatens to regulate it out of existence.
Will Catholics who have supported the Democratic Party in spite of its decades-long pro-abortion stance decide an insurance regulation is the philosophical breaking point? Maybe: Up until now, they could rationalize to themselves that they weren’t being forced to take an action themselves that violated their consciences. Now they’ll have to come up with a new justification.
If they can’t find one, it could have a sizable impact on this year’s contest. Catholics made up more than a quarter of the 2008 electorate, and Obama won the group by 9 percentage points. John Kerry, who is a Catholic, lost the group by 5 points in 2004. Had Obama repeated Kerry’s performance with Catholics, it would have lopped 2 whole points off his popular-vote win. (The effects in the Electoral College would have been harder to gauge.) And this is another case in which the folks Obama has alienated will probably be highly motivated to vote against him, whereas the people happy with his decision won’t be much more likely to turn out in his support.
Another way in which this decision may have bigger implications for the 2012 election is in the personal embarrassment it visits upon some of the high-profile Catholics who had sought to engage Obama, from the president of Notre Dame to various Catholic bishops. There likely will be a lot fewer Catholic leaders — as well as Protestant ones — willing to stand as apologists for this president.
Then again, fooling people into thinking Obama was a safe, middle-of-the-road, post-partisan candidate proved to be pretty easy in 2008. The president’s actions over the past three years have made the jobs of the Obama 2012 team harder. But perhaps, in their minds, not hard enough.
– By Kyle Wingfield