Obama needs to back down on contraception

This showdown between the Obama administration and the religious community continues to pick up steam.

I spent the drive in listening to George Weigel from the Ethics and Public Policy Center and E.J Dionne, a Washington Post columnist, debate the issue on MSNBC.

The debate is an interesting commentary on our culture, made all the more interesting by the fact we’re in an election year. First, let’s recap the issue:

The new rule was issued last month by the Department of Health and Human Services. Not only did it say employers who offer health insurance must provide contraception, they must also do it free of charge. Churches are exempt from the regulation, but because Catholic hospitals and universities serve many Americans who aren’t Catholic, the administration said they must comply.

The debate puts Obama in the middle of two groups whose support he needs in what may be a tight re-election bid: women’s groups and religious organizations.

As Weigle said this morning, the Catholic Church is feeling “beat up” and has rolled out a strong PR campaign against the rules changes. As I noted in recent blog posts, our Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Harrisburg Bishop Joseph McFadden have been vocal parts of that campaign.

The Obama administration says 28 states already have similar mandates requiring contraceptive coverage. But some Catholic leaders say the states have broader exemptions than the new federal mandate.

But here’s some interesting polling data: nearly six-in-ten (58%) Catholic Americans generally support the contraception requirement. A majority (55%) of all Americans also support the requirement.

The new PRRI Religion and Politics Tracking Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute, finds that a slim majority (52%) of Catholics also believe that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should have to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost. Among Catholic voters, however, only 45% support this requirement, while 52% oppose it.

In my view, there’s an obvious compromise to be made here and it will probably happen sooner rather than later given the cost to the Obama camp. Known as the “Hawaii compromise,” other states have gotten around this sticky issue this way.

The Washington Post described the compromise in a recent blog post:

Under Hawaii law, religious employers that decline to cover contraceptives must provide written notification to enrollees disclosing that fact and describing alternate ways for enrollees to access coverage for contraceptive services.

Hawaii law also requires health insurers to allow enrollees in a health plan of an objecting religious employer to purchase coverage of contraceptive services directly and to do so at a cost that does not exceed “the enrollee’s pro rata share of the price the group purchaser would have paid for such coverage had the group plan not invoked a religious exemption.”

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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