Sunday, February 5, 2012

Fallout from White House decision on contraception to linger until the fall?

Posted By on Sun, Feb 5, 2012 at 1:18 PM

President Obama signing health care reform law in 2010
  • President Obama signing health care reform law in 2010
A basic sense of the 2012 political race is that if the economy continues to show improvement, Barack Obama is looking good for re-election this fall, and if it doesn't, he's toast.

But might there be a social issue lurking that could haunt the President?

That's what some critics are saying regarding the administration's recent decision that Catholic charities, hospitals and schools must offer health insurance that includes contraception, which goes against Church doctrine.

Newt Gingrich told NBC's Meet The Press host David Gregory that President Obama is going to pay a political price for his administration's decision.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: Well, I mean, you, you just managed to precisely repeat the Obama administration's line, which is also the American Civil Liberties Union line. The fact is what you're saying is there cannot be a genuinely Catholic university, there cannot be a genuinely Catholic hospital, that in fact it will have to be subordinated to the rules of a secular government. I mean, I happen to oppose rules that, that have, for example, forced Catholic Adoption Services to be closed because they're only willing to have adoptions for marriages between a man and a woman. There are states that now close that. I think that is a tremendous infringement of religious liberty. And I think you're saying the same thing. You're saying basically, "Oh, you can have the name on it, but you can't actually be a Catholic institution. You can't actually be an evangelical Christian institution. You can't actually be an orthodox Jewish institution because we the secular government are going to impose on you." I think that's—I think this is a very profound moment for Americans to decide...

MR. GREGORY: And you predict a political cost for the president.

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: you really want to have a government impose on them?

MR. GREGORY: Do you predict a political cost for the president because of this?

FMR. REP. GINGRICH: What? Very substantial, yes. Because, because every American who cares about religious liberty, and I've been talking, for example, with evangelicals here in Nevada, every American who cares about religious liberty recognizes that from, from, from judges who say you, you can't say a prayer in high school, you can't—the New York City decision recently—you, you can't rent an empty school building on Sunday morning—every time you turn around, secular government is closing in on and shrinking the right of religious liberty in America, and I think there are millions of people who are very disturbed by it.

Gingrich and other Catholics are calling the decision announced last month by Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius an aggressive act against Catholicism. Check out Peggy Noonan's Saturday column in the Wall Street Journal,where she speculates that the White House has "awakened a sleeping giant," American Catholics.

There was no reason to make this ruling—none. Except ideology.

The conscience clause, which keeps the church itself from having to bow to such decisions, has always been assumed to cover the church's institutions.

Now the church is fighting back. Priests in an estimated 70 percent of parishes last Sunday came forward to read strongly worded protests from the church's bishops. The ruling asks the church to abandon Catholic principles and beliefs; it is an abridgment of the First Amendment; it is not acceptable. They say they will not bow to it. They should never bow to it, not only because they are Catholic and cannot be told to take actions that deny their faith, but because they are citizens of the United States.

If they stay strong and fight, they will win. This is in fact a potentially unifying moment for American Catholics, long split left, right and center. Catholic conservatives will immediately and fully oppose the administration's decision. But Catholic liberals, who feel embarrassed and undercut, have also come out in opposition.

Are Gingrich and Noonan right, and President Obama has a wedge issue that his own administration has created going into the fall?

Obviously it's too early to say. But it's also fair to say that there are liberal Catholics who also are troubled by the White House's move here. Last week we wrote about what the Washington Post's E. J. Dionne had to say, and another Post columnist on the left, Melinda Henneberger, also has criticized the administration's approach.

President Obama quoted C.S. Lewis on Thursday morning, and normally that would have made my day. The president is good at talking about his Christian faith, as he did at a National Prayer Breakfast, and ought to do more of it if he wants to relieve Americans of some of their most basic misconceptions about him.

But more than I want to hear him tell how the Rev. T.D. Jakes drops by the Oval now and again, I want to know why he repaid Sister Carol Keehan, who carried health-care reform around on her back for him, with a betrayal that could lose him the Catholic vote and his reelection bid.

If that’s what happens, he’ll have no one to blame but himself, after a recent edict by his Health and Human Service Department effectively denied conscience protections to church-run schools, hospitals and social service agencies, which under his Affordable Care Act must provide free contraception to employees, in violation of church teaching.

To review, there would be no Affordable Care Act without Keehan, the president of the Catholic Health Association, who incurred the wrath of the bishops for standing up for the legislation, and for the truth that there isn’t any abortion funding in it.

There would be no Affordable Care Act if not for Democratic abortion foes in the House, notably Bart Stupak (Mich.), who for his trouble was reviled by his fellow party members, accosted by critics in airports and sent at least one death threat. He also lost his job over it, deciding to retire after the fight, at the end of his term.

So, too, will there be no Affordable Care Act if Catholics swing the other way in the fall.

Last week Marco Rubio signed on as a primary cosponsor to the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, a bill that would "restore the rights of conscience and the freedom of religion explicitly found in the First Amendment of the Constitution." Twenty-eight other Senators have signed on, all but one of them Republican (the one Democrat is Nebraska's Ben Nelson, not running for re-election this year).

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