During Thursday's national prayer breakfast, President Obama said, "I am my brother's keeper, and I am my sister's keeper." The problem is that he actually believes it.
The White House is taking increasing fire for a ruling from Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that social service providers will have to include support for birth control, sterilization and some forms of abortion in their health coverage regardless of their religious or ethical views. This includes religious charities, schools, universities and hospitals. The Catholic Church in particular has been leading the fight against this government power grab. The Department of the Army even tried to muzzle Catholic chaplains from reading a letter from the pulpit written by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio denouncing the policy. Secretary of the Army John McHugh backed down after talking to Archbishop Broglio, though a section of the letter pledging noncompliance with the "unjust law" was edited from the reading lest it appear to be a call to civil disobedience.
The merits of contraception or the consciences of individual Catholics is not the primary issue here. This is about the role of government and the scope of Obamacare. It may have come as a surprise that the HHS secretary had the power to dictate the fine print of everyone's health care coverage. During the debates over Obamacare, religiously affiliated health care providers were promised that they would receive a "conscience waiver" for any provisions of the law that created this kind of moral dilemma. This is what then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Democrat, dismissively referred to as "this conscience thing." It's an important illustration of why it is important to know what is in legislation before it is passed.
The discussion has vaulted quickly from policy to politics. The administration dispatched campaign guru David Axelrod to MSNBC on Tuesday to create an appearance of White House flexibility. "We certainly don't want to abridge anyone's religious freedom," he said, "so we're going to look for a way to move forward that both guarantees women that basic preventive care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions." Mr. Axelrod simply restated the parameters of the debate while promising nothing.
There's good reason to believe that the White House will not budge. Mr. Obama won 54 percent of the Catholic vote in 2008, but the most faithful are not core Obama supporters. According to Gallup weekly poll data, Americans who attend church weekly track 7 points below Mr. Obama's average approval rating, while those who seldom or never attend church are 4 points above. This 11-point gap explains why the White House feels it can risk the ire of the church. Birth control is a core issue for Mr. Obama's feminist base, and it is easier for him to take a hard-left turn than make a deal to placate people of faith whose votes he figures he won't get anyway.
Maybe the Obama campaign will borrow a page from Bill Clinton and pledge to fix the problem after the election - if anyone will fall for that old trick.
The Washington Times
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