I have often written in this space criticizing the American Catholic bishops, but today, after reading their response to the Obama administration’s risibly cosmetic revision to its contraception mandate, I can say with delight that the bishops make me proud to be a Catholic.
The key point is that the bishops have not been fooled by the administration’s absurd canard that, if we merely say that an employer is not required to purchase contraceptive coverage for its employees but then require the insurer to provide the employees with such coverage free of charge anyway, the employer is not purchasing the coverage. As the bishops put it, such “coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer’s plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer.” In other words, as I argued yesterday, it’s the same system as before, except that President Obama says that it isn’t, and we’re supposed to be fools enough to believe him.
Moreover, I owe the bishops an apology, for in an earlier post, I had said that the bishops were wrong to frame this issue as one of religious freedom for religious institutions. I argued that if the relevant practices are wrong in the way the Church says they are, then it is wrong for the government to force any employer—not just religious employers—to fund them. I said that the bishops should not limit their objection to the rule’s application to religious employers but should object to it in much broader terms.
In fact, this is exactly what the bishops had been saying all along, as the latest press release makes perfectly clear:
We objected to the rule forcing private health plans … to cover sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion…. [W]e explained that the mandate would impose a burden of unprecedented reach and severity on the consciences of those who consider such “services” immoral: insurers forced to write policies including this coverage; employers and schools forced to sponsor and subsidize the coverage; and individual employees and students forced to pay premiums for the coverage. We therefore urged HHS, if it insisted on keeping the mandate, to provide a conscience exemption for all of these stakeholders—not just the extremely small subset of “religious employers” that HHS proposed to exempt initially.
From the very start, the bishops had this right. Shame on me for trusting the accounts in the mainstream media and not reading the bishops’ own statements.
The bishops conclude that “the lack of clear protection for key stakeholders—for self-insured religious employers; for religious and secular for-profit employers; for secular non-profit employers; for religious insurers; and for individuals—is unacceptable and must be corrected.” Hence, “Rescission of [the] mandate [is the] only complete solution.”
So here we have the Catholic bishops preaching the word out of season. It is a good day to be a Catholic in America.