John Boehner actually got out of his chair and gave a speech Wednesday on the House floor, decrying the Obama administration's policy of requiring birth control coverage with no co-payments to employees of church-affiliated organizations. He was vociferous in his claim that it was a clear intrusion into religious liberties, and vowed that Congress would act if the Administration didn't.
“In imposing this requirement, the federal government is violating a First Amendment right that has stood for more than two centuries, and it is doing so in a manner that affects millions of Americans and harms some of our nation’s most vital institutions. If the president does not reverse the Department’s attack on religious freedom, then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution we are sworn to uphold and defend, must.”
Republicans need an issue like this to unite, because they can't come together on basic conservative principles. This is why there is such a divide among the candidates for a Republican nominee, and why Boehner jumped right on the bandwagon.
However, not all religious organizations agree. Via The Hill:
A coalition of 23 religious groups lent its support Wednesday to the Obama administration's new birth-control mandate, which is under fire from Republicans as an attack on religious freedom.
It's a jolt of support for the White House and follows new polling this week that said a majority of voters, including Catholics, support the new policy. Still, the issue has become a headache for the administration amid fierce attacks from the GOP and comments from campaign adviser David Axelrod that indicated the White House was open to a compromise.
The groups lending their support Wednesday include several explicitly pro-choice organizations, such as Catholics for Choice and Concerned Clergy for Choice. The coalition includes Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations.
So that we're clear here, the policy does not require churches or their employees to be covered under the policy. There is a waiver available. What it specifically covers are those employees of universities, hospitals, and other organizations who are affiliated with churches but not directly employed by churches and are not necessarily Catholic. You won't hear that distinction from those making all the noise over the policy, but that's what it is, and why these organizations support it. As for that suggestion of a compromise, it seems that's an invention of those who would like to see the administration cave to the Catholic church. Jay Carney summed it up in his Wednesday press conference this way:
“The commitment to make sure that all American women no matter where they work have access to the same health care coverage and same preventive care services, including contraception, is absolutely firm. That’s the President’s commitment, that's explicit in the policy proposal. The discussion, and it's an important one, but the discussion is how can we, in implementing this policy, try to allay some of the concerns that have been expressed? And the President is very sensitive to that. As [are] Secretary Sebelius and others. But that's the issue. So, describe that as you will but there is no change in the commitment to ensuring that women have access to these important services.”
Beyond the obvious culture war raging over this, there are some really fundamental ethical questions. John Aravosis follows the "religious liberty" argument to its logical extreme, wondering if Catholic hospitals can refuse to treat him if he's gay, or Mitt Romney because he's Mormon. Why should the Church be able to dictate doctrine to rank-and-file employees? And why is this such a huge issue when some Catholic institutions already offer a birth control benefit? Why is allowing for the choice any kind of violation of religious liberty in organizations which serve a secular purpose?
Meanwhile, Republicans are at considerable political risk over this issue, particularly some vulnerable Republican Senators who endorsed a federal birth control mandate in 2001. Pro-choice Republicans are warning that waging culture wars will ensure defeat in 2012. Perhaps, but at this point they're reaching for whatever they can to obscure the fact that Republicans are deeply divided and are fielding at least two candidates who do not appeal on a national level, cannot defeat Barack Obama in November, and risk down-ticket races, too.
Speaking strictly for me, I'm just tired of being a political pawn in partisan politics. I'm tired of my health needs and those of my daughter, my friends, and my friends' daughters being nothing more than something to bat back and forth on the national stage.