by Jeremy Leaming
Beltway Religious Right lobbyists are finding some success, with the help of opportunistic lawmakers in Congress, in painting the Obama administration’s health care policy that requires many insurance plans to provide free contraceptives as a brazen attack on religious liberty.
TPM reported earlier today that weak-kneed politicos, such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are opposing the new rule. That opposition, not surprisingly was joined by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who tweeted yesterday, aping Religious Right rhetoric, that “Government should not compel religious organizations to provide services contrary to their beliefs.” (TPM's Sahil Kapur is also reporting that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has introduced a sweeping bill that would not only overturn the administration's contraception rule, but would "effectively permit any employer to deny contraception coverage in their employee health plans ....")
Christian Right lobbying group, the Family Research Council, will conduct a webcast this evening blasting the contraception rule as “not only an attack on the consciences of employers and employees, but a direct attack on religious freedom.”
But the Religious Right’s rhetoric should be recognized for what it is, overwrought spin.
The contraception rule is not difficult to understand, unless you’re Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, now a columnist for The Washington Post. Later this year, the Affordable Care Act will require most health insurance plans to provide women access to contraception for free or by paying a co-pay or deductible. Houses of worship, however, are exempt from the rule, meaning they get to play by different rules than secular organizations, so if they wish to provide their employees limited health care coverage, they can.
But entities with religious affiliations, such as universities and charities are not exempt, and must provide health care plans that offer women preventive services, including contraception. This is not surpising or unusual, those types of institutions employ a diverse group of people of various religious and secular makeups. And it's policy that is generally applicable, meaning it will apply to all institutions, secular or otherwise that are regulated by the Affordable Care Act. There are numerous laws in this nation with general applicability, which impact religious actions to a certain degree that do not run afoul of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.
The intensifying claims that the contraception rule tramples religious affiliated groups’ religious liberty rights are overblown, for a reason, primarily political in nature. With polls showing approval of this Congress at ridiculously low levels, the leaders of the House are itching to latch onto something to distract people from the fact the chamber is largely doing nothing, except bemoan actions by the administration.
Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, says the “religious community, led by the Catholic Church, has overreacted in ways that have distorted the administration’s actions. Contrary to their claims, no individual health care provider will be forced to prescribe contraception, nor will any woman be forced to buy or use contraception.”
Ness continues, “Perhaps more importantly to set the record straight, no church or other house of worship will be required to offer employees coverage for contraceptive health services. That’s the carve-out for religious institutions. It’s a big one. (Religiously affiliated institutions, including large hospitals and universities, that employ people of different faiths, will have to provide coverage.)”
Writing for the Wall of Separation blog, Rob Boston recognizes the misinformation that has been generated against the policy, and notes that while Religious Right lobbyists are loudly blasting the law, polls show overwhelming numbers of Americans rely on birth control, including sexually active Catholic women, and that other religious voices are speaking up in favor of the administration’s health care policy.
“A coalition of 23 religious leaders has released a joint statement supporting the Obama administration’s decision,” Boston writes. “Signers include representatives from the Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Methodist, Episcopalian, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ and Unitarian Universalist traditions. (You can read the full list here.)
[image via Ceridwen]