President Obama unleashed a firestorm when he ordered HHS to issue a directive requiring all organizations providing health insurance to their employees to cover contraception, “morning after” pills, and sterilization procedures. This directive has stunned the American Catholic leadership, whose support for the Obamacare legislation (they tell us) was predicated on assurances that healthcare reform would never require Catholic institutions to violate their fundamental principles. The bishops, and many American Catholics, feel betrayed.
Some bishops feel personally betrayed. New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan met in the Oval Office with the President in November to discuss this very issue, and was assured by Obama’s own lips that the administration was committed to protecting the church’s principles. This new directive, Archbishop Dolan now says plaintively, “seems to be at odds with the very assurances that he gave me.” (This is as close as an Archbishop may come, when speaking of the President, to saying, “He lied to me.”)
Progressives (who innately dislike organized religion because a) religions find a higher authority than the enlightened leadership the Progressives propose to create for us, and b) religion stresses individual conscience and individual salvation over collective priorities), tend to be delighted with the new rule, which puts the principles of religious belief into their proper place. Their only reservation about this directive is that the backlash might be politically disadvantageous at this particular moment.
And indeed, that backlash promises to be formidable. Catholics are outraged. Despite the fact that Catholics (Progressives assure us) use birth control with as much enthusiasm as anyone else, they find it quite disturbing that the government is willing to direct their Church to pay for something which the Church (whatever the behavior of its members may be) considers a sin. Whatever else this directive may be, it is clearly an attack on religious freedom. Leaders of other religions – evangelicals, Mormons, Jews – have also expressed outrage at the President’s directive, and organized American religions of all types are mounting a campaign to have this rule reversed.
Senator Rubio and other members of Congress find in this directive a constitutional crisis in the making, and are introducing legislation to prevent the government from mandating that religious organizations violate their religious principles.
It is said that Vice President Biden, a Catholic, urged the President not to issue this directive. And several Democrat members of Congress, sensing growing political repercussions, have pleaded with the President to reverse himself on this issue. There is no telling what the President – who has proven remarkably willing to reverse himself on even his most heartfelt promises – will end up doing. But for now he is holding firm. Catholics will have up to a year to “phase in” their capitulation on their religious beliefs, but they still must capitulate.
The most interesting question, to DrRich at least, is: Why did President Obama choose, in an election year, to issue this directive, which he knew without any doubt, from Archbishop Dolan himself if not from other sources, would create huge problems with American Catholics? Catholics make up 27% of the electorate, and almost 50% of American Catholics are of the Hispanic variety, a group which, it is said, tends to take its Catholicism far more seriously than your average non-Hispanic Catholic. The president can ill afford to lose a substantial degree of support from Catholics, or especially, Hispanics. It also should have been plain to him that this directive would raise the specter of the government trampling on religious freedoms for people of all faiths – and with everything else going on, why would he want to add this issue to the mix in an election year? Finally, he had to know that his new rule would (yet again) call into question the degree of respect he has for the American Constitution as it is written.
Despite the fact that he is being cheered on by true Progressives (even causing Ms. Maddow to gleefully invoke, once again, her Amish Bus Driver Rule), the President’s directive, in net, is shaping up to become a major political liability for him, and in a critical election year to boot. And it would have been easy for President Obama – a very smart man – to see this ahead of time. Issuing this directive at this juncture makes no sense politically.
So why did he do it?
The reason DrRich is compelled, once again, to tear himself away from the fascinating re-write of his textbook of electrophysiology, to the point that he finds himself posting more often during his blogging sabbatical than during normal times, is that nobody in the media seems to have figured out the correct answer to this question. And it is important to know the correct answer, because it tells us a lot about the battle that is really shaping up.
The President did not issue this politically counterproductive directive because it was necessary for the health of American women. (One set of healthcare services American women have plenty of access to, regardless of their income levels, is birth control and abortion services. That, after all, is why we taxpayers fund Planned Parenthood.) So to imply, as some have done, that without this directive American women would be falling dead on the streets is just absurd.
Nor did he issue it in order to further weaken religious freedom, or to further undermine the Constitution as our founders gave it to us. These features of his directive, DrRich submits, are merely useful side benefits, and would not have been compelling enough to jeopardize his re-election.
The reason President Obama issued this directive was not to undermine religious or constitutional principles, but rather, to establish new principles of his own that are critical both to Obamacare and to the overarching Progressive agenda.
DrRich has pointed out many times that the real battle we will face as Obamacare is being rolled out is the battle over whether American citizens will retain individual freedom sufficient to be permitted to spend their own money on their own healthcare. Indeed, DrRich has written a series of posts that spells all this out in painful detail. If you need to know why limiting individual prerogatives is so critically important to Progressives, and why Obamacare must be the vehicle for establishing these limitations, simply read the first post in that series.
DrRich understands how paranoid this all sounds at first glance. To see the truth of it, one must take several glances, and observe, over time, the actual behavior of Progressives in the wild.
DrRich hereby asserts that this new directive – which various commentators insist protects the health of women, or undermines religious freedom, or tears down Constitutional guarantees – actually was issued in order to establish, once and for all, the essential set of foundational principles for Obamacare, to wit:
1) The government will determine what constitutes healthcare and what does not.
2) If the government says it’s healthcare, every insurance product must cover it.
3) If it’s not covered by insurance, thou shalt not have access to it.
The first two of these principles are pretty obvious, and constitute, in fact, the overt meaning of the President’s directive. The government has determined that contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization constitute essential healthcare services, and therefore all employers must cover them, whatever their religious beliefs or other sensibilities may be.
But if you listen carefully to the arguments being made by supporters of the new directive, you will hear them saying that it’s critical that women have access to these services, as Jay Carney, the President’s Press Secretary avers, without paying for them themselves.
And that’s what the whole fight comes down to. Women must be provided these services without paying for them.
Progressives pretend they mean by this that many, many women are going without these services today because they cannot afford them, and so we must make sure the services are provided for them free of charge. But of all medical services that exist today, access to birth control and abortion are likely the ones which are most accessible to women of all socioeconomic backgrounds. And if there are women whose financial status still precludes receiving these services (among whom are most likely not the women gainfully employed by Catholic institutions), surely the President can imagine remedies for this situation that do not require taking the kind of extraordinary political risk he has just taken.
No. Women must be provided these services without paying for them NOT because there are so many women going without them today due to the cost to them. Rather, women must be provided these services without paying for them because we cannot allow women (or any patient) to pay for these services (or any service the Central Authority classifies as “healthcare”) out of their own pockets.
All healthcare services must be covered by all insurance products – regardless of which institutions provide those insurance products – precisely because nobody can be permitted to pay for healthcare outside the sanctioned insurance product.
This is the principle which is being established by the President’s new directive. This principle, so critical to Obamacare and to the Progressive agenda, is a principle worth fighting for. None of the other explanations offered by proponents or opponents of the President’s action make any sense. Establishing this critical principle is the only thing that justifies the huge political risk the President is now taking.
And now, retreating back to the far simpler task of explaining the intricacies of cardiac electrophysiology to novices, DrRich helpfully and humbly reminds his readers: I told you so.