Obamacare against the Church

We’ve been following the story of the Church’s response to the assault perpetrated by the Obamacare regulation on “preventive care” with a religious exemption so narrow that will require most Catholic institutions to comply. In the new issue of the Weekly Standard Jonathan Last provides an excellent journalistic account of events leading up to the regulations.

As soon as Sebelius released th[e] decision [regarding the scope of the regulation], the Catholic church panicked. The Conference of Catholic Bishops reached out to the administration to explain the position in which it had put them. But the tone of their concern was largely friendly: Most Catholic leaders were convinced that the entire thing was a misunderstanding and that the policy​—​which was labeled an “interim” measure​—​would eventually be amended.

The reason for this optimism was that more than a few important Catholics had previously climbed out on a high branch for Obama politically, and for his health care reform as a matter of policy. Despite what you may read in the New York Times, most lay Catholics are nominally at home in the Democratic party. (Remember that a majority of Catholics voted for Obama in 2008.) And what is true of the laity goes double for those in religious life. In 2009, Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins welcomed President Obama as the school’s commencement speaker in the face of a heated student protest. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops mostly kept its powder dry during the fight over Obamacare, and very few members of the church hierarchy actively, or even tacitly, opposed the bill. Others, such as Sister Carol Keehan, the president of the Catholic Health Association, actually lobbied in favor of it, early and often. So most Catholics took the president at his word when he met with Archbishop Timothy Dolan last fall and assured him that when the final version of the policy was eventually released, any fears would be allayed.

That was their mistake. Obama telephoned Dolan on the morning of January 20 to inform him that the only concession he intended to offer in the final policy was to extend the deadline for conformity to August 2013. Every other aspect of the policy enunciated by Sebelius would remain rigidly in place.

Jonathan also considers the timing of the effective date of the regulation:

The trick, of course, is that when Sebelius issued the final protocol, her lone concession was the one-year delay in implementation. Which, for Obama, has the happy side-effect of pushing the moment of enforcement to August 2013. Meaning that no legal challenge can come until after the 2012 election. Which suggests that the thinking behind the policy may be primarily political. The question, then, is whether Obama’s confrontation with Catholics makes electoral sense.

There are many lessons to be drawn here. One of them harks back to Nancy Pelosi’s statement that we had to pass the health care law in order to find out what was in it. Surprise! It’s a shame that the bishops weren’t paying closer attention.

This little surprise opens a window onto the larger assault on the freedom of Americans that is at the heart of Obamacare. The problem isn’t with — or isn’t just with — the scope of the religious exemption, but rather with the law itself.

UPDATE: See also Ross Douthat’s post responding to left-wing critics of his New York Times column.

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