Obama contraception ‘accommodation’ still imposes state mandate on church

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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White House officials say they to plan to bypass church opposition to a contraceptive mandate in the president’s health care overhaul by directing insurance companies to hand out free birth control services to employees of religious institutions.

“We think this is a very common-sense solution. … All women will have access to these very, very important contraceptive services, and those employers that have religious objections don’t have to pay for it,” a White House official told reporters in a phone call. (RELATED VIDEO: Congressman says Obama ‘duped’ American people)

However, neither of the officials, and none of the reporters, raised the issue of whether the mandate is a back-door method of regulating church practices, a possible violation the First Amendment’s prohibition against state regulation of churches.

President Barack Obama is slated to appear at 12:15 p.m. to promote the maneuver, which officials described as an accommodation to religious groups that oppose contraception.

White House officials are spinning the controversy as an effort by the Catholic church to deny contraceptive services to women.

That’s a campaign-trail argument, because it offers free services to young women while portraying the Catholic church as an obstacle to progressives.

However, the controversy has grown rapidly because critics say the core issue is not contraception or even abortion-related drugs, but an ambitious effort by Obama and fellow progressives to use the power of the state to subordinate religious groups to progressives’ political priorities.

Those priorities include feminists’ demands that birth-control services — including abortion-related drugs — be provided free to the employees of religious groups that oppose progressive’s priorities.

The core principle of the new rules, said the White House officials, is the delivery of free contraceptive services to women. Under the new accommodation, that goal is “inviolate,” said one official.

The controversy has also been fueled by objections from Democrats and Republican politicians, from white and Hispanic Catholics and evangelicals, and from civil liberties advocates.

This broad response may be prove to be a disadvantageous for Obama’s re-election effort if it costs him the support of swing-voting white Catholics and reduces support among Democratic-leaning Hispanics.

The latest in a string of health care controversies exploded with the Jan. 20 announcement that religious congregations and organizations would be fined if they decline to provide their employees with health insurance that includes no-cost contraception and some abortion-related services. Obama’s decision was based on portions of his 2010 Affordable Care Act, which puts most of the nation’s medical sector under stringent government supervision.

Obama exempted smaller churches that employ only people of their own faith.

He included, however, many churches’ affiliated civil-society projects, hospitals, universities, schools, charities and other centers that serve the public.

Larger churches that also offer day-care, job-counseling, and charitable services would be included under the federal government’s edict, especially if they do not refuse to hire or aid people from other denominations.

Although the Catholic Church has the largest array of civil-society activities — and the most outspoken opposition to contraceptives, abortion-related services and state oversight of church activities — Obama’s rule seeks to extend the state’s regulation to all denominations’ activities, including those run or overseen by Jewish, Baptist, evangelical, protestant and even Muslim clerics.

If those religious civil-society services are shut down by the new rule, they’ll likely be replaced by government-run services, directed by secular professionals allied with the Democratic Party.

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