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Blog buzz: The contraception debate


A recent ruling by the Obama administration -- requiring health insurance plans sponsored by religious-affiliated employers to provide contraception as part of their basic benefit package -- has fired up the blogosphere, drawing criticisms from both sides. Not surprisingly, many on the left are taking a firm position in supporting the administration's decision, while the right is opposing it.

Liberal blogger Steven Benen states that most Roman Catholics agree with the White House, citing a recent poll.

While the Obama administration's recent decision on contraception has caused a stir, it's worth pausing to appreciate the fact that most Roman Catholics already agree with the White House... Support, not surprisingly, is fairly broad among most groups. The only constituency opposed to the coverage in this poll was self-identified white evangelicals.

Igor Volsky at the liberal ThinkProgress suggests Catholic leaders and the GOP presidential candidates have “intentionally distorted” the issue and ignored the numbers that show most Catholic universities and hospitals already offer prescription insurance to cover contraception.

Conservatives are seeking a way to politically unite Republican voters around a social issue and portray the regulation as a big government intrusion into religious liberties. In reality, the mandate is modeled on existing rules in six states, exempts houses of worship and other religious nonprofits that primarily employ and serve people of faith, and offers employers a transitional period of one year to determine how best to comply with the rule.

Sarah Posner, a blogger at Religion Dispatches accuses three liberal Catholic pundits of wrongfully criticizing and misunderstanding the issue at hand.

First there was Michael Sean Winters, writing "J'Accuse!" in the National Catholic Reporter. "President Barack Obama," Winters wrote, "lost my vote yesterday when he declined to expand the exceedingly narrow conscience exemptions proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services. The issue of conscience protections is so foundational, I do not see how I ever could, in good conscience, vote for this man again."

Next up was E.J. Dionne, a good liberal Democrat (and Catholic), who used his Washington Post column to assail the President for how he "utterly botched the admittedly difficult question of how contraceptive services should be treated under the new health-care law."

Mark Shields, also Catholic, opined on the PBS NewsHour: "The fallout is cataclysmic for the White House and for the president."”

Did someone like Doug Kmiec help win Republican-leaning Catholic voters to Obama—or did Obama win them over himself? Will Winters and Shields and Dionne cause Catholic Democrats to flee Obama en masse? Maybe we'd know if any of the media outlets that published their opinions had asked a Catholic with ovaries.

On the right, meanwhile, Grace-Marie Turner at National Review Online, framed the ruling as an “assault on the Constitution and the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”

“..There is a war on religion from the Left, and it is very dangerous to the institutions that make our civil society function.

The Catholic Church historically has been a vital part of the safety net — providing aid for the poor, care for the sick, shelter and food for the homeless, and care for mothers in need, as a few examples.

The health-care law threatens to tear gaping holes in that safety net by forcing Catholic health plans to cover contraception, by denying funds to Catholic adoption agencies, and ultimately by forcing taxpayers — including Catholics — to fund abortion. 

And Robert Morrison, also at NRO, believes Americans must resist “any connection with the culture of death.”

This administration wants to compel these hospitals to join the culture of death by forcing them to provide insurance coverage for their employees for sterilization and drugs that cause abortions. In so doing, the Obama administration violates not only the conscience rights of practicing Catholics, but also the conscience rights of millions of “separated brethren,” protestants like us, who rely on Catholic health care to uphold the sanctity of life.


All Americans have a stake in this conflict. The Obama administration views pregnancy as a disease, and they want to force all of us to see it as a disease, too. They view this great human blessing as a curse. No wonder we are at odds with them over this menacing move.”

This “unconscionable” move — as New York’s Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan calls it– must be resisted by all Americans who value our God-given rights of conscience. On this vital question, there should be no separation among us. The Lord we serve came that we may have life and have it abundantly. We must resist any connection with the culture of death.