Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Degeneration of debate on the HHS contraceptive mandate

Okay, so I never thought there was much principled debate going on, at least in the public sphere, but at some point I did reach the conclusion that the religious institutions had one meaningful objection--that self-insured Catholic institutions would be directly purchasing contraceptives contrary to conscience.  However, the Obama administration recently announced that self-insured employers wouldn't have to pay for contraceptives.  Instead, the managers of those plans, or separate insurers, would provide contraceptive access at no cost.  This clearly addresses the last viable concern.  In a reasoning world, objections would now cease, but of course they haven't.  I'm lucky enough to be at Notre Dame, which has a good law school and is hugely Catholic, so I get exposed to what one would imagine is the pinnacle of public debate on the issue.  And it is just SO unimpressive right now.  Look at some choice quotes from a recent forum (poached from an Observer article):

“The religious freedom of … communities like Notre Dame is not just the freedom to avoid being coerced into doing evil … [but] to bear witness of the truth of the faith and to act with integrity and to act coherently in accord with their Catholic character as they understand it,”

This is pretty clearly an admission that Catholic institutions don't have a leg to stand on anymore.  If you're not being coerced to do bad things the religious objection is done and over.

“Sometimes a democracy like ours, with ideals like ours, accommodates religious freedom even when it doesn’t have to,” Garnett said. “In this case, it seems to me, the better policy … would be to provide a broader religious freedom exemption to the preventative services mandate.”

And, indeed, there is a direct concession here that the Government has done all it has to do, but they want mega-special-extra-above-and-beyond-treatment because it's really important to allow religious institutions to impose their beliefs on their non-religious employees.  That's how America should work! Ridiculous.

“The conviction of those currently in power that contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs constitute essential preventive services that enhance the health of women … in the administration’s mind … trumps any right that religious employers might have to refuse to pay for such essential services,” she said.

So, as a matter of law, it's probably true that the rights of women to reproductive freedom are greater than the rights of religious institutions to not buy contraceptives, but the administration has decided not to test that boundary.  Instead, they set up a system where religious employers don't have to pay for contraceptives AND women still get free access to them.  This is a delightfully misleading statement.

“To have that narrow exemption codified in our regulatory apparatus, it’s like leaving a loaded gun around for a kid to pick up,

I just think this is an adorable metaphor.  In what conceivable way are those scenarios equivalent?

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