Four observations about this brouhaha:
One: It isn’t a violation of religious liberty for an affected employer (such as a Catholic hospital) because it doesn’t require that employer to provide birth control.
It says that if you are going to offer health insurance as a form of compensation, employees ought to be able to use that compensation to obtain birth control. As Jonathan Cohn observed in the New Republic the other day, “In an employer-based system…you pay for your insurance through wages that your employers withholds and dumps into a health insurance fund on your behalf.”
In other words, it’s the employee paying for health insurance, not the employer. The benefits received are thus the employee’s to accept as he or she sees fit. It’s the equivalent of an employer telling workers they are prohibited from using money in their paycheck to go down to the drugstore and buy some condoms. Perhaps Lamar and Marsha think it’s acceptable for employers to impose such a ban, and a violation of religious liberty otherwise. They should say so.
Two: Religious liberty is not limitless.
In an opinion piece in the Washington Examiner last week, Mitt Romney said, “it is a prerequisite to the preservation of our liberty that our government not dictate to religious institutions the principles by which they are to carry out their charitable and divine mission.”
Oh please. There are numerous areas where secular government reins in the freedom of religious organizations and institutions to act, applying everything from criminal law to tax policy to labor rights and workplace safety and discrimination regulations (the latter exempted only ministerially). In that same op-ed, Romney wrote that rules like this one “don’t belong in the America that I believe in” — conveniently overlooking the fact that a virtually identical rule existed in Massachusetts while he was governor, with no cries of constitutional outrage from Gov. Romney.
Three: Many liberals worry that the fuss over this issue is one salvo in a larger effort by religious conservatives to make it harder for women generally to gain access to birth control.
With every step taken by outraged Republicans, this fear becomes less alarmist and more concrete. As The Tennessean reports, Lamar has signed on to a bill sponsored by Marco Rubio (R-Florida) that would exempt any employer of any type or size from including contraception in health coverage if they have religious objections. It is simply astonishing that conservatives who spend so much of their time railing against the social pathologies wrought by unwed pregnancies and kids raised outside two-parent families want to make birth control harder to obtain at reasonable cost. This, they think, is a winning 21st century issue?
Four: Notwithstanding the grandstanding and hypocrisy on this issue, it’s also astonishing that the supposedly smart humans who surround Obama didn’t see this one coming a mile away.
Given the timetable for implementation of the new health-care reform bill, perhaps the rule-making couldn’t have been shelved until after the election, but it certainly could have been unveiled and explained far more cogently. Would there still have been a firestorm of sanctimonious outrage, given that we’re in the middle of a GOP primary season? Sure — but at least the Obama administration wouldn’t have been caught by the storm like a deer in the headlights.
The fecklessness with which Obamaworld manages the narrative and discourse that surrounds key issues has been a singular and recurring shortcoming in a first term that otherwise does feature a number of policy accomplishments. With this issue, we are reminded yet again that being an effective communicator yourself — and effectively managing the communication strategy of a complex enterprise like the executive branch — are two very different things.