Brian Birdnow

The current discontent concerning President Obama’s ham-handed decision to force Catholic hospitals, schools, and charities to provide birth control and abortion pills for their employees has generated enough heat and light to scorch the entire USA this chilly February. Many prominent Catholic figures across the entire spectrum of the chattering classes including Patrick J. Buchanan, Peggy Noonan, E.J. Dionne, Chris Matthews, Mark Shields, and Maggie Gallagher have expressed dismay at the declaration, with the Democrats among them clearly most worried about the effect that this contretemps will have on Obama’s re-election chances. The emerging consensus holds that Obama’s attack on Catholicism will, as Peggy Noonan argued in the Wall Street Journal, unite the Catholic Left and the Catholic Right in the face of a common enemy. Yet, the Catholics who serenely expect a reinvigorated congregation as a result of this controversy may be sadly disappointed in the end.

When trying to assess the effect this tempest will have on Obama’s re-election chances, it is imperative that we observe the high wire act, complete with double talk, employed by liberal Catholics when trying to spin Obama’s decision. Some politicians like Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat and practicing Catholic, resort to mouthing platitudes about the decision being both a step forward for women’s health and a means of reducing abortion, although McCaskill has only just now decided that reducing abortion might be a good thing. Some other liberal Catholics and liberal Catholic organizations, like the universities, have sought to avoid difficulties by declining public comment on the issue.

Most of the major organs of the mainstream media are attempting to frame this issue as an example of Catholic hypocrisy by stating, as did the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on February 10th, that, “It’s believed that 99 percent of women, and 98 percent of Catholic women who are sexually active have used contraception”, although the newspaper does not divulge the source of these figures. The same paper went on to quote a study saying that over 50% of Catholics believe that employers should be required to offer health plans including birth control coverage, and that all people agree that prescription contraception coverage is “too expensive”. Certainly, the major metropolitan daily newspapers can be counted on to rail at perceived Catholic inconsistency on this issue, and to invent, out of thin air, the statistics that would offer their contentions a trifle of credibility.

Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.