Monday, January 30, 2012

The Contraception Wars. Preliminary Negotiations by E. J. Dionne

E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post ended up in a pretzel shape trying to explain why Obama wasn't sufficiently fawning towards the US Catholic bishops* in the contraception wars:
One of Barack Obama’s great attractions as a presidential candidate was his sensitivity to the feelings and intellectual concerns of religious believers. That is why it is so remarkable that he utterly botched the admittedly difficult question of how contraceptive services should be treated under the new health care law.
His administration mishandled this decision not once but twice. In the process, Obama threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus and strengthened the hand of those inside the Church who had originally sought to derail the health care law.


As a general matter, it made perfect sense to cover contraception. Many see doing so as protecting women’s rights, and expanded contraception coverage will likely reduce the number of abortions. While the Catholic Church formally opposes contraception, this teaching is widely ignored by the faithful. One does not see many Catholic families of six or 10 or twelve that were quite common in the 1950s. Contraception might have something to do with this.


And it was offered a compromise idea to do just that by Melissa Rogers, the former chair of Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. (Rogers and I have worked together on religion and public life issues over the years, though I played no role in formulating her proposal.) In The Washington Post’s “On Faith” forum in October, she pointed to a Hawaii law under which “religious employers that decline to cover contraceptives must provide written notification to enrollees disclosing that fact and describing alternate ways for enrollees to access coverage for contraceptive services.” The Hawaii law effectively required insurers to allow uncovered individuals to secure this coverage on their own at modest cost.

As I've written before, the bishops' stance is not logical. They want the religious right not to offer contraception to any worker at a Catholic institution, whether that person is a Catholic herself or not. A more logical argument for them to make would be that no Catholic person should be provided such insurance, wherever she happens to be working. I'm not advocating that point of view, just stating it as the more logical interpretation of the demands of the Roman Catholic church.

But what would that "modest cost" of the contraceptive pill be, the arrangement Dionne appears to favor? How much would the women working for Catholic universities and hospitals have to pay out of pocket? Who would subsidize that cost?
What does this mean? Let's break it down another way. Technically, the poverty line in the US for a four person family is $22,350. That's $1,862.50/month. Nearly half of the women previously mentioned in the "sexually active, but not interested in having children" bucket fall below that poverty line. Having an infrastructure that forces a woman to pay up to $50/month for contraception in that budget is a huge burden on families.
I doubt anyone would subsidize the cost of contraceptives for the workers whose choices would be determined by the US Catholic bishops. They'd be on their own and would have to pay more for their contraceptives than others, simply because of the religious identity of their employer.
For some odd reason that term in my mind is now inextricably linked with all those Monty Python "Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition" skits. Probably because these guys suddenly appear from nowhere and appear to take over the political process.