The Obama administration clearly underestimated the response it would receive from Catholics and non-Catholics, alike, after implementing a universal mandate on health plans that requires coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.
As the Blaze has extensively documented, the response has been swift and hard-hitting. Many liberals who traditionally support these options for women have been jumping ship to side with Catholic leadership in agreement that the administration has overstepped its bounds — an event that so rarely happens in theological and political circles.
But it’s important to note that, despite very boisterous outcries, Obama does have support from some liberals on this issue; many of them are pointing to the fact that nearly all Catholic women use contraceptives as a defense. Using this argument, those who favor the mandate claim that the Church is out of touch and not accurately speaking for its followers on this important women’s health issue.
But is this the proper lens through which to view the issue? Free and religious speech advocates would argue that usage has little to do with views on government intervention in church affairs. In the end, it’s a complicated scenario with political capital for whichever side wins the public over. At the moment, the situation may not be as favorable for Obama as he would like. In an article published on Wednesday, Religion News Service’s David Gibson provides five reasons that the president may be losing the battle.
First, the debate, despite what the mandate’s supporters say, is about religious freedom — not contraception. Regardless of where one stands, the main issue at hand is whether the government has the right to interfere in church affairs and dictate what will be covered in health care plans. Gibson writes:
The bishops don’t have as much credibility with the laity as they used to, thanks to the clergy sex abuse scandal, among other things. But Catholics are still a potent tribe, and if outsiders are seen as attacking the church, Catholics can get defensive – and they can get even.
Then there’s the fact, as mentioned, that some liberal Catholics have abandoned the president on the issue. Regardless of where these individuals stand on use of these health care options, forcing Catholic institutions (among other faith-based groups) to violate their conscience just isn’t sitting right.
Now, let’s talk about those other faith groups. Many times, people of different religious traditions have a tough time coalescing, but on this issue, individuals with varying theological ideals are coming together. After all, it’s one thing to sit back and watch an attack on a rival faith group unfold, but when considering what could happen, should this mandate go unchecked, many religious people are fearful: “What’s next?,” they’re wondering. Gibson continues:
Even though evangelicals and other conservative Protestants generally don’t have religious objections to contraception, they do have a big problem with “big government” and with perceived infringements on religious freedom. Evangelicals – both their leaders and their troops – have never been big Barack Obama supporters anyway, so they were happy to provide any electoral and rhetorical muscle the Catholic hierarchy could not muster.
The fourth reason Gibson highlights is the fact that the “attack on religion” frame the issue is being explored through is an appealing one for Republicans. While many conservatives are wondering why Obama would approach this subject in an election year to begin with, others are noticing just how effective religious freedom rhetoric will be for the GOP nominee.
The rhetoric is already ratcheting up. “This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country cannot stand, and will not stand,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said earlier this week.
And, of course, there’s the overwhelming fact that the president will need to secure the Catholic vote to ensure re-election. “While Obama won the overall Catholic vote 54 percent to 46 percent in 2008, he lost the white Catholic vote, 47 percent to 53 percent,” Gibson writes. It’s hard to imagine the president won’t lose a portion of this important cohort as a result of his refusal, thus far, to compromise.
Sure, he’s shown “openness” to the ideal of coming up with a viable solution that appeases both sides, but to those so staunchly opposed, such a notion isn’t good enough. The president will need to admit wrongdoing and back away from the mandate, should he wish to appease many of those individuals who feel wronged by the government’s newfound regulations. So far, there’s no evidence that he will take such a course.
Click here to read Gibson’s RNS article.