All conflicts get resolved eventually. The Japanese and the Germans are now our allies, and Vietnam is now an afterthought – one of our minor trading partners, and not much worth thinking about otherwise. But of course there are the Irish – still angry that James II didn’t continue as the Catholic King of England. No, in 1688 he was shoved aside and they brought in his daughter, Mary, and her husband, William, Prince of the House of Orange in the Netherlands, and reliably not Catholic at all. Yes, they did call this the Bloodless Revolution – as no battles were fought over the shift – no battles in England at least. But in Ireland they’re still, off and on, fighting the 1690 Battle of the Boyne – the river that separates Northern Ireland from the Catholic south. That was nasty. The forces of William of Orange managed to hang onto Northern Ireland. But Irish Catholics never give up, even when they lose. And this sort of thing went on forever. Although the Irish weren’t involved, the British soundly defeated the forces of the heir of James II, Bonnie Prince Charlie, at the 1745 Battle of Culloden – field artillery always trumps pikes and staves – but the modern IRA, quiescent for now, has been known to blow up this and that, even in London. And even here in Southern California you still find folks who defiantly wear orange on Saint Patrick’s Day – not green. James II should never have been the king, damn it – so Orange it is. That conflict was never really resolved.
So, all conflicts do get resolved – eventually – except those which involve Irish Catholic folks with a grudge. And as the Irish are generally an amiable and sentimental people, it’s easy enough to see the problem is not the people, but this particular religion – the one that also gave us the Spanish Inquisition. These folks don’t compromise. They never give in. Conflicts are not resolved – battles are fought, and it doesn’t matter who actually wins. You fight on.
But Obama tried his best:
Under fierce election-year fire, President Barack Obama on Friday abruptly abandoned his stand that religious organizations must pay for birth control for workers, rushing to end a furor raging from the Catholic Church to Congress to his re-election foes. He instead demanded that insurance companies step in to provide the coverage.
It was a minor version of the famous Battle of the Boyne, but Obama prefers being reasonable to forcing everything to some sort of apocalyptic confrontation of absolutes, and he offered what seemed reasonable to many:
The change essentially shifts the responsibility for providing and discussing contraception from the religious employer to the insurers. Any employer who has a religious objection to providing contraception will not have to provide that service to employees, but in those cases the insurer will be required to reach out directly to the employee and offer contraceptive care free of charge.
And the Los Angeles Times’ Washington Bureau provides the details:
For days President Obama had been hammered over a regulation in the 2010 healthcare law that required religiously affiliated hospitals, charities and universities to provide birth control coverage for their female employees even if that conflicted with church teachings.
On Friday he tried to end the debate with what he called an “accommodation.” The employees still will be offered free birth control coverage. But the benefit will come directly from their insurers, and no religious groups’ money will be used.
The question now is whether the maneuver will tamp down the political fire and allow Obama to refocus public attention and his reelection drive on the more favorable news coming from the economy.
Well, he won over the Roman Catholic hospital association and Catholic Charities, but not the nation’s bishops. But he reassured any number of wavering Democrats and Planned Parenthood was okay with this, and maybe the insurance companies were too:
Under the new plan, administration officials believe insurers will comply at no charge because the coverage may not actually cost them anything. Evidence suggests that providing birth control coverage reduces overall costs for health plans because birth control is much cheaper than pregnancy, according to administration officials and some health industry analysts.
But it seems Obama had to do this all himself:
The fact that the compromise had not been suggested earlier angered the president, who felt let down by his staff, officials said. Obama waded into the details of the dispute himself this week and personally crafted the solution, according to a Democratic official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.
It seems that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and senior advisor Valerie Jarrett had both argued strongly for a commitment to make contraceptives available to all, and everyone else on the team said that was political suicide. And there were all those Catholic bishops raising holy hell. But this is curious:
According to Democratic officials with knowledge of the talks, some policy experts and lawyers in the White House believed the administration should not compromise because no birth control mandate would win bishops’ support.
They know who they’re dealing with. So Obama did what he did:
Announcing the change Friday at the White House, Obama said he had always been sensitive to the concerns about religious liberty, telling reporters that “we live in a pluralistic society where we’re not going to agree on every single issue or share every belief.”
“That doesn’t mean that we have to choose between individual liberty and basic fairness for all Americans,” Obama said. “We are unique among nations for having been founded upon both these principles – and our obligation as citizens is to carry them forward. I have complete faith that we can do that.”
We’re not going to agree on every single issue or share every belief? Was that a slap at the bishops? And no one said anything like that back in 1690 by the river. But this was resolved, and it wasn’t:
The policy shift also showed little sign of satisfying his toughest critics on the right. Republican presidential hopefuls made it clear they planned to keep the pressure on Obama, and an aide to House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said the House would pursue legislative measures to ensure there was no “attack on religious freedom.”
Sigh. Some folks never give up, even when they get what they want. Obama said this – “Religious liberty will be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women.” Everyone wins. But it seems that’s not good enough.
Interestingly, the New York Times tells the tale of the one key woman with the very Irish name:
For the White House, the decision announced Friday to soften a rule requiring religious-affiliated organizations to pay for insurance plans that offer free birth control was never really driven by a desire to mollify Roman Catholic bishops, who were strongly opposed to the plan.
Rather, the fight was for Sister Carol Keehan – head of an influential Catholic hospital group, who had supported President Obama’s health care law – and Catholic allies of the White House seen as the religious left. Sister Keehan had told the White House that the new rule, part of the health care law, went too far.
“I felt like he had made a really bad decision, and I told him that,” Sister Keehan said of the president. “I told his staff that. I felt like they had made a bad decision on principle, and politically it was a bad decision. For me another key thing was that it had the potential to threaten the future of health reform.”
The rest of the item goes into the details of the back-and-forth arguments. Sister Keehan was the key. Obama got his Irish on.
But Kevin Drum reports that he got an amusing email from a friend:
“Policy experts within the administration believe that there is effectively no cost to providing contraception, because use of it prevents much more expensive care they would otherwise have to provide.”
Catholic bishops are reportedly thrilled. Insurance companies not heard from yet.
You think these things don’t turn on the number of angels on the head of a pin? Apparently, they really do.
Not clear to me why they think there’s “effectively no cost” and the insurance companies won’t object, since if that were the case, they would have been offering this from the beginning of time.
And Drum offers this:
If this gets everyone to sing Kumbaya, who am I to object? But really, this is just idiocy. If insurance companies are required to provide contraceptive coverage “free of charge,” they will, of course, simply raise rates elsewhere to cover all these “free” contraceptives. And Catholic hospitals and universities will all pay these slightly higher rates, which means they’re paying exactly as much for contraceptive coverage indirectly as they would be if their healthcare plans covered it directly. Just as Catholic bishops who pay income taxes already pay indirectly for contraceptive care subsidized by tax dollars – which they do. That’s life in a pluralistic democracy. We all pay for stuff we disapprove of.
Still, I guess this accommodation means the bishops can convince themselves their money isn’t going toward paying for the evils of contraception. Kumbaya!
But Drum does consider what Obama did a “cunningly brilliant” move:
Obama gets to show – again! – that he’s always willing to meet his critics halfway, and if the insurance companies play along with the “free of charge” charade then the critics really don’t have a leg left to stand on. If they continue to object, then they’re exposed as simply opposed to birth control, not merely standing up for religious liberty.
And Steve Benen concurs:
It’s a safe bet the Bishops won’t be satisfied, but it’s a pretty straightforward fix: religiously-affiliated employers that don’t want to pay for contraception coverage as part of their benefits packages won’t have to, but these employees will still get the coverage because the White House will instruct insurers to pick up the costs.
An official on the call described access to this preventive care as the “core principle” that the White House considers “inviolate.” The new announcement, the official added, leaves this principle “unchanged.”
“All women will still have access to preventive care, and that includes contraceptive services, no matter where they work,” the official said. It will be the same “guaranteed” benefit for these employees as in “any other workplace.”
What’s not to like? And having support from both the Catholic Health Association and Planned Parenthood is rather amazing:
If insurance companies can make the implementation work, it would appear this policy carefully threads a needle. The right’s talking points all week, when not attacking contraception itself, were based on the notion that it’s an “assault on religious liberty” to force religious employers to honor the contraception mandate. They’ve now lost that talking point.
Well, they do have other talking points. Pat Robertson is encouraging his many followers to steer clear of the “Twilight” movies and books. He calls such vampire-themed stories “demonic” and “evil.” But Mitt Romney has said he’s a big fan of the “Twilight” series. Maybe that will be the next controversy. But probably not – Obama has no position on such things at all. Of course they could hammer him for having no position on teen vampire movies. We’ll see.
But Amanda Marcotte has an interesting take on what happened here:
The fun part of this is that Obama just pulled a fast one on Republicans. He drew this out for two weeks, letting Republicans work themselves into a frenzy of anti-contraception rhetoric, all thinly disguised as concern for religious liberty, and then created a compromise that addressed their purported concerns but without actually reducing women’s access to contraception, which is what this has always been about.
Marcotte does note that Dana Goldstein reported in 2010 – long before this current mess and all this odd talk about religious liberty – these same Catholic bishops were demanding that women be denied access to all contraception and be shamed into doing the right thing – abstaining from sex instead. And who knows more about abstaining from sex than those in the Catholic priesthood?
But Marcotte concentrates on the political:
With the fig leaf of religious liberty removed, Republicans are in a bad situation. They can either drop this and slink away, knowing they’ve been punked, or they can double down. But in order to do so, they’ll have to be more blatantly anti-contraception, a politically toxic move in a country where 99% of women have used contraception.
So Obama wins this one:
My guess is that they’ll take their knocks and go home, but a lot of the damage has already been done. Romney was provoked repeatedly to go on the record saying negative things about contraception. Sure, it was in the frame of concern about religious liberty, but as this incident fades into memory, what most people will remember is that Republicans picked a fight with Obama over contraception coverage and lost. This also gave Obama a chance to highlight this benefit and take full credit for it. Obama needs young female voters to turn out at the polls in November, and hijacking two weeks of the news cycle to send the message that he’s going to get you your birth control for free is a big win for him in that department. I expect to see some ads in the fall showing Romney saying hostile things about contraception and health care reform, with the message that free birth control is going away if he’s elected. It’s all so perfect that I’m inclined to think this was Obama’s plan all along.
And there is Greg Sargent’s argument on why this controversy has become a wedge issue to be used against, not by, the Republicans:
That’s because anyone who comes out against the proposal Obama outlined today will be asked a simple question: Are you saying that employers should dictate to female employees whether they should or shouldn’t have access to birth control coverage?
It’s pretty simple:
There’s been a ton of commentary to the effect that Obama’s stance on contraception could damage him among Catholic swing voters. For all I know, it’s possible, particularly among church-going, as opposed to secular, Catholics. But this is clearly bad politics for Republicans, too.
All the GOP presidential candidates will be expected to double down in opposition to Obama’s new policy. Yet multiple recent polls have shown Obama opening up a sizable lead against Romney among women. What kind of impact do you think GOP opposition to free contraception for female employees of these institutions will have on that gender gap?
And he notes that a new poll came out illustrating how risky this position may be among Americans overall – a majority, 61 percent in fact, approve of “requiring employer health plans to cover birth control for women.” And only 34 percent disapproved. Independents approve 58-34 and women 67-29. Only Republicans, conservatives, and the Tea Party folks oppose the idea. And, ironically, the polling organization that published these findings was Fox News – which amuses Sargent.
But these folks don’t give up:
Republicans and some conservative Catholic groups are not satisfied with the accommodation and hope to use their false claim of “religious persecution” to deny women access to preventive health services. Despite Obama’s decision to shield nonprofit religious institutions from offering birth control benefits, next week Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is expected to offer an amendment that would permit any employer or insurance plan to exclude any health service, no matter how essential, from coverage if they morally object to it…
Individuals too can opt out of coverage if it is contrary to their religious or moral beliefs, radically undermining “the basic principle of insurance, which involves pooling the risks for all possible medical needs of all enrollees” – as the National Women’s Law Center explains, Blunt’s language is vague enough that “insurers may be able to sell plans that do not cover services required by the new health care law to an entire market because one individual objects, so all consumers in a market lose their right to coverage of the full range of critical health services.” As a result, a man “purchasing an insurance plan offered to women and men could object to maternity coverage, so the plan would not have to cover it, even though such coverage is required as part of the essential health benefits.”
And Igor Volsky explains:
Under the measure, an insurer or an employer would be able to claim a moral or religious objection to covering HIV/AIDS screenings, Type-2 Diabetes treatments, cancer tests or anything else they deem inappropriate or the result of an “unhealthy” or “immoral” lifestyle. Similarly, a health plan could refuse to cover mental health care on the grounds that the plan believes that psychiatric problems should be treated with prayer.
And Lindsay Beyerstein offers this:
Already Catholic special interests are objecting to funding contraception out of overall premiums because that means they’re funding contraception indirectly. This kind of intransigence illustrates how foolish it was to try to compromise with this constituency in the first place. They are professionally unreasonable.
Compromise is illusory because these guys are practicing spiritual accounting, not generally accepted accounting principles. They will make up the rules to get the result they want, namely, “We’re being oppressed by your birth control!”
The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops hates the fact that any woman might get free birth control under health reform. No matter how this program is administered, the sophists at the USCCB will come up with a sob story about how they are being oppressed by our contraception cooties.
So they will keep fighting the Battle of the Boyne, and Joan McCarter puts it this way:
Apparently Blunt figures he can’t be called out for specifically for trying to limit women’s health care options if he attacks everybody. So if you’re one of those people who lost at genetic Russian Roulette and end up susceptible to Type 2 diabetes, or if you’re one of the 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer victims who isn’t a smoker, or are among the 50 percent of victims who is a former smoker, you’re shit out of luck. Sexually active? You won’t even be able to be screened for HIV/AIDS (really smart disease control, there).
Is this insane and extreme? Of course. Would it be a public health disaster? Absolutely. Do Republicans care? Absolutely not.
And of course now they will be led by Rick Santorum, who has argued this:
One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country. … Many of the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay, contraception is okay.” It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.
His general position is that sex is to be endured, not enjoyed – it’s just something God requires of married folks, to create kids, but only to create kids. God never ever meant it for anything else. So any woman who uses any form of contraception is a total slut, or a sinner going straight to hell, or a strumpet, or a harlot, or a Scarlet Woman! To which, it seems, American women will say yeah, so what – deal with it.
It only gets more interesting. Some conflicts never get resolved.