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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Obama, Catholics, and Contraception

Our chapter on civic culture lays out the breadth and depth of religious influence on American life. Our chapters on parties and campaigns explain how religious affiliation influences political behavior and how faith groups play a role in electoral politics. Such topics are especially relevant in light of the administration's controversial decision to make religious-affiliated universities and hospitals offer insurance coverage for contraception even if they object on religious grounds.

At Bloomberg, Mike Dorning and Margaret Talev report:
President Barack Obama ended months of internal White House debate by siding with a group of mostly female advisers who urged him not to limit a health-care law mandate to provide contraceptives, even at the risk of alienating Catholic voters in November, people familiar with the discussions said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic and a two-term governor of Kansas, was joined by several female Obama advisers in urging against a broad exemption for religious organizations. To do so would leave too many women without coverage and sap the enthusiasm for Obama among women’s rights advocates, they said, according to the people, who spoke about the deliberations on condition of anonymity.

Vice President Joe Biden and then-White House chief of staff Bill Daley, also Catholics, warned that the mandate would be seen as a government intrusion on religious institutions. Even moderate Catholic voters in battleground states might be alienated, they warned, according to the people familiar with the discussions.
At Politico, Scott Wong reports:
President Barack Obama’s contraceptives edict has handed Republicans an election-year gift. But now, the president may have a problem with his own party, too.
A handful of high-profile Catholic Democrats are bailing on the president and joining the GOP chorus of critics. They’re arguing that the rule needs to be significantly softened if not, as Republicans want, scrapped altogether.
At this point, the Democratic defectors are few in number but tall in stature. They include two swing-state pols on the November ballot — Obama’s former DNC chairman, Tim Kaine, who’s running for Senate in Virginia, and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey — as well as House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson.
At The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne writes of the president:

His deservedly celebrated 2006 speech on religion and American public life was a deeply sophisticated and carefully balanced effort to defend the rights of both believers and nonbelievers in a pluralistic republic.
Obama’s speech at Notre Dame’s graduation in 2009 was another tour de force. His visit to South Bend was highly controversial among right-wing Catholics. Yet his address temporarily silenced many of his critics because it showed an appreciation for the Catholic Church’s contributions to American life — particularly through its vast array of social-service and educational institutions — and an instinctive feeling for Catholic sensibilities
Speaking as a Catholic, I wish the Church would be more open on the contraception question. But speaking as an American liberal who believes that religious pluralism imposes certain obligations on government, I think the Church’s leaders had a right to ask for broader relief from a contraception mandate that would require it to act against its own teachings. The administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here.