- DECEMBER 13, 2011
The Church of Kathleen Sebelius
A zealous administration wants to require all health insurance plans to cover contraception, sterilization and drugs known to induce abortion.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
In the church of Kathleen Sebelius, there is little room for dissent. “We are in a war,” the Health and Human Services Secretary declared to cheers at a recent NARAL Pro-Choice America fund-raiser. Give the lady her due: Her actions mostly match her words.
Mrs. Sebelius’s militancy explains the shock her allies are now feeling after last Wednesday’s decision to overrule the Food and Drug Administration on Plan B, a morning-after pill. The FDA had proposed allowing over-the-counter sales, which would give girls as young as 11 or 12 access without either a prescription or a parent. Now the secretary’s allies are howling about her “caving in” to the Catholic bishops.
On this score they needn’t worry. Notwithstanding the unexpected burst of common sense on Plan B, the great untold story remains the intolerance so beloved of self-styled progressives. In this Mrs. Sebelius has proved herself one of the administration’s most faithful practitioners: here watering down conscience protections for nurses and doctors who don’t want to participate in abortions; there yanking funding for a top-rated program for victims of sexual trafficking run by the Catholic bishops, because they will not sign on to the NARAL agenda; soon to impose a new HHS mandate that will require health-insurance plans to cover contraception, sterilization and drugs known to induce abortion.
Alas for her president, her zeal for this agenda has yielded two unintended consequences. Within her party, it is creating a rift between the Planned Parenthood wing and the president’s Catholic and religious supporters. Outside her party, it is illuminating the danger of equating bigger government with a more just society.
Thus far, attention has mostly focused on the politics. One reason is that even Catholics who supported President Obama on his signature health bill recognize the contraceptive mandate as a bridge too far. These include the Catholic Health Association’s Sr. Carol Keehan, whose well-publicized embrace of the Affordable Care Act gave the president critical cover when he needed it. Others simply question whether forcing Catholic hospitals to drop health insurance for their employees rather than submit to Madam Sebelius’s bull is really the image the president wants during a tough re-election year.
Then there are the Catholic bishops. Just two years ago, many seemed to regard ObamaCare as a compassionate piece of legislation if only a few provisions (e.g., conscience rights and abortion funding) could be tweaked. Now they are learning the real problem is the whole thing is built on force—from the individual mandate and doctors’ fees to the panels deciding what treatment grandma is entitled to. The awakening has led to a new bishops’ committee on religious liberty, and tough, unprecedented criticism.
Predictably the press has been treating all this as a purely Catholic battle. If the church looms large here, that is because Catholic institutions have always been at the fore of social service. Still, it would be nice to come across a story that recognized that even if HHS were to widen the religious exemption (it’s so narrow Jesus Christ wouldn’t qualify) the new contraceptive mandate would still be imposed on non-Catholic as well as Catholic individuals and insurers.
Department of Health and Human ServicesHealth and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
Whether you approve or disapprove of contraception or sterilization is beside the point. Today nine out of 10 employer plans offer what Mrs. Sebelius wants them to. The point is whether it is right or necessary for Mrs. Sebelius to use the federal government to bring the other 10% to heel.
There was a day when liberals and libertarians appreciated the importance of upholding the freedoms of people and groups with unpopular views. No longer. As government expands, religious liberty is reduced to a special “exemption” and concerns about government coercion are dismissed, in the memorable words of Nancy Pelosi, as “this conscience thing.”
“Religious liberty is better seen as more a liberty issue than a religion issue,” says Bill Mumma of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “The more we drive religious and private associations off the public square, the more that space will be occupied by government.”
Of course, some might answer that they object to lots of things their money underwrites—say, the war in Iraq. Mrs. Sebelius’s HHS rule, however, doesn’t involve tax dollars: It involves forcing Americans to spend their private dollars on things they deem unconscionable. How far this is from the understanding in 1776 that the way to uphold liberty and keep these conflicts to a minimum was to keep government small and limited.
A new TV ad from CatholicVote.org features a little girl. “Dear President Obama,” she says. “Can I ask you a question? Why are you trying to force my church and my school to pay for things that we don’t even believe in?”
It’s a good question. Apparently it’s not enough that contraception be legal, cheap and available. As Mrs. Sebelius illustrates, modern American liberalism cannot rest until those who object are forced to underwrite it.