I feel like I’m alone on this.
On February 10th, President Obama, with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at his side, announced the administration’s ‘accommodation’ for religious groups objecting to the contraception mandate. Immediately, swaths of Bishops, bloggers, politicians and radio hosts began decrying the accommodation, saying that it wasn’t enough. Discussions arose about whether insurance companies would pass along the costs of the contraception through premiums, making Catholic groups pay for the contraception indirectly. Arguments were made by supporters of the administration that fewer babies because of more contraception would keep insurance companies costs equal, so no costs would be passed to the insured religious organization. On and on and on.
On January 20th of this year, President Obama called (now) Cardinal Dolan to let him know two things. The first was that sterilization, contraception and morning-after pills would be required ‘preventative’ coverage for insurance companies. The second was that the religious exemption clause would be rewritten and applied to any organization that:
1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose.
2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets.
3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.
4) is a nonprofit organization according to IRS standards.
Of the above list, #2 is a strike against Catholic hospitals and probably a lot of Catholic schools; both of which hire largely on professional ability. #3 is another strike against Catholic charities and many schools and hospitals, as none are likely to reject willing patrons based on their non-religious beliefs. At the end of the day, only churches and their staffs will be exempt.
The uproar started and Obama thought to himself, “That Andrew Sciba over at Truth & Charity nailed it. We need to change the national conversation from the religious exemption to contraception.” Enter the ‘accommodation’ and the migration of the national conversation from the religious exemption to contraception. As it stands, Obama could call a press conference tomorrow and announce (to joyous exultation) that no religious organizations will be mandated to cover any of the contraceptive products – and schools, hospitals and charities would still have to pay for the products. He could present, pass and sign an amendment to the Constitution saying that religious organizations will never have to pay for anything ever again – and schools, hospitals and charities will still have to pay for the contraceptive products. Why? Because these groups still do not qualify for the religious exemption. They don’t even qualify for the supposed accommodation.
I suppose the initial backlash to the mandate was more than the administration expected and the motivation for the national conversation change came from the realization that while they would undoubtedly lose a constitutional war. They could, however, coast through a convoluted battle of splitting moral hairs about who pays for what and how directly. Unless America’s religious leaders mobilize their political forces to defend against the narrowing of the religious exemption, President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius will indeed survive this conflict, perhaps even with their contraception goal in-hand.