Monday, February 6, 2012

Government + Religion = Political Suicide

There is a controversial debate going on right now that may influence the November Presidential election.
The Department of Health and Human Services has proposed a new regulation that has unleashed a firestorm of criticism from the Catholic Church.
The proposed regulation, which is part of the implementation of the President’s Affordable Health Care Act,  would require all private health plans in the US to cover sterilizations and all FDA approved contraceptives; including those that cause abortions.  The purpose of the regulation is to implement a provision in the AHCA that requires all health care plans to cover “preventative services”.  When combined with the AHCA’s mandate that all individuals must by health insurance, this “preventative services” regulation would require all Catholics to buy health care plans that include coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives and abortions; all of which violate Catholic moral believes.  Furthermore, it would require all Catholic hospitals, Catholic charitable organizations and Catholic universities to choose between dropping coverage for their employees or violating the moral teachings of their church.
As one might expect; the response to the HHS announcement broke along ideological lines.   
Yesterday, priests and bishops across the country took to their pulpits to denounce the regulation.  Conservatives offered their support; condemning the administration for violating the division between church and state.
Progressives countered that if an organization is willing to accept federal funding then it is reasonable to expect those government funds to go to providing all services that are legal. If an organization is willing to accept Medicaid for services rendered then why should a hospital decide what legal services they will provide.  They argue that the law has exceptions for actual churches and their employees.  But if a church chooses to get into the business of administering health care and accepts government funding along the way; then they are subject to the same rules as any non-denominational health care provider.    
Let’s set ideology aside and examine the facts.
Today, 28 states already have similar laws in place; including the state of Massachusetts under its much publicized “Romneycare” plan.  The “religious exemptions” in those states are just as “narrow” as the exemptions listed in the HHS regulation.  The “morning after pill” is exempted under the HHS plan as it is in the individual state plans.    
It should also be noted that 98% of those who identify themselves as “Catholic” admit to using birth control; a clear violation of their church’s teachings.  Furthermore, many Catholics believe in a woman’s right to choose; in spite of the church’s moral belief that abortion is murder.  That said, most Catholics do not want the government interfering with their religious practices; no matter how convoluted they may be.  That is why they call it “faith.”
From our perspective, while we support health care for everyone, this is one of the weak points of the President’s health care law.  Imposing government policies that violate an individual's or an institution's religious beliefs will not fly.  Period!  The President is on a slippery slope with this one; and the Catholic Church is not going to lend a helping hand.
The President knows that come November roughly 47% of Americans will vote for him no matter what.  There is another 47% that are going to vote for whomever the Republicans nominate because they want the President out of office.  This campaign is all about winning the hearts and minds of 6% of the electorate; most of whom are independents and many of whom are Catholics. 
Our guess is that the President and his Department of Health and Human Services will tweak this regulation before the election.  Because allowing Republicans to paint him as a President who allows the government to subjugate religion is political suicide.            

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