Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

E.J. Dionne on the "Utterly Botched" Contraception Mandate

From Commonweal:

One of Barack Obama's great attractions as a presidential candidate was his sensitivity to the feelings and intellectual concerns of religious believers. That is why it is so remarkable that he utterly botched the admittedly difficult question of how contraceptive services should be treated under the new health-care law. His administration mishandled this decision not once but twice. In the process, Obama threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus and strengthened the hand of those inside the church who had originally sought to derail the health care law.

I don't find the question whether to broaden the exemption difficult, but otherwise:  Ditto!

E.J. also mentions as a compromise the idea of expanding the exemption but requiring objecting employers to notify employees that they do not cover contraceptives and to inform employees of alternate ways they can obtain coverage.  But for many organizations this won't reduce the conflict much, since they'd view providing information about specific alternatives--essentially, referrals--as likewise material cooperation with evil.  And there's the rub that the mandated contraceptives include some that may act as abortifacients, which widens the duty not to cooperate.

As I finish this, I've caught Rick's post linking to the very interesting discussion among moral theologians about the cooperation-with-evil analysis of this.


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Yes, this was horribly botched, if -- and only if -- you accept the view that Pres. Obama would prefer to accommodate. In that case, the mandate was a clumsy flub.

I thought that at first, but once I saw how ham-handed it was, and once I saw the lines of argument being used, I've instead concluded otherwise (as I posted at length in another comment here on MOJ). Someone that smart doesn't flub that clumsily.

I am now fairly sure that this is a calculated fight to try to demonize the bishops as foils, and to put a wedge between the bishops and the swing voters in the pews. The bishops already felt burnt by the health care bill and the Stupak fight, and some were ready to lean on their flocks this fall about abortion and the presidential race. (I know you and other have debated here whether the bishops' view of the final bill was correct, but I'm not arguing for their correctness, only the observational point that many were feeling betrayed.)

Many Catholic voters are open to persuasion on that. That's especially so when the issues that drove them to Obama in 2008 are no longer front burner, such as the wars and torture, which are over, or are now actually negatives for Obama (adopting Bush policies on detainees etc.).

So many bishops were already lining up to do more, and enough receptive ears were available. Thus, he needed to bring some bishops back around, OR risk attacking them directly on an issue in which the pew-sitters just might side with the Prez over their own bishops.

Voila! Contraception does the trick. It's a calculated risk: Sure, the bishops are sounding massive alarms, but does the flock agree? If they don't, all it does is re-frame the bishops as out-of-touch prudes on matters sexual, and then when they talk about abortion next, at least some of the otherwise-receptive flock has tuned out.

On top of all that, it fires up the base of secular liberals, who were losing faith in him.

All that is, in my view, more plausible than reading it as one big oops. What really confirms it, in my view, is how much the line of defense has focused specifically on the wedge. It's not being defended purely as necessary health care, or as needed for non-Catholic employees of Catholic employers. It's being defended as "c'mon, it's not leaning on regular Catholics' consciences at all, because they're all contracepting anyway." That wedge appeal, coming so quickly, says to me that this is deliberate.

Posted by: joe reader | Feb 1, 2012 12:03:03 PM