Shifting Sands in the Contraception Debate
I thought these comments from the chief counsel for the USCCB were interesting, and suggest that the bishops are, as Grant suggested below, not going to be satisfied with a Hawaii-type compromise, or even with a total exemption (without conditions) for Catholic institutions:
The White House is “all talk, no action” on moving toward compromise, said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “There has been a lot of talk in the last couple days about compromise, but it sounds to us like a way to turn down the heat, to placate people without doing anything in particular,” Picarello said. “We’re not going to do anything until this is fixed.”
That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for “good Catholic business people who can’t in good conscience cooperate with this.”
“If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I’d be covered by the mandate,” Picarello said.
Proposed congressional action on the issue is similar in its apparent intention to extend the exemptions debate well beyond the domain of religious institutions. According to this report, the Rubio/Manchin proposal in the Senate would allow any employer (and not just religious institutions) to avoid having to provide contraceptive coverage by citing religious objections.
This strikes me as the logical extension of the arguments that some have made on behalf of allowing Catholic institutions to obtain an extension. If forcing them to pay into an insurance fund that covers contraception violates their religious conscience, I’m not sure why a private Catholic employer who accepts the Church’s position on contraception and on the impermissibility (but see Madison, Wis.) of paying into such a fund is differently situated in some fundamental way. Now, the law frequently distinguishes between religious institutions and private citizens (e.g., religious institutions that own property are allowed by the Fair Housing Act to discriminate in the housing market on the basis of religion, whereas other private owners are not), so I’m not saying that one cannot, as a practical matter, make the distinction. But the argument from religious conscience has a tendency to take on a life of its own.