Emperors in medieval Christendom often disregarded Papal edicts because the Pope lacked the armies to enforce them. Times have changed.
As has been widely reported, President Obama’s Health and Human Services department (HHS) will soon require Catholic organizations to provide contraception services within their healthcare plans, and pay a fine if they don’t. Worse yet, it will also require Catholic organizations who don’t offer these services to apprise citizens where they can obtain them. Catholics are outraged, for good reason.
The stark implications of this policy for the Catholic Church were noted by Atlanta archbishop Wilton D. Gregory who said, “As a result, unless the (HHS) rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so).” Such employees include, for instance, those working at Catholic hospitals, schools, and Catholic Charities, which is the largest private sector social services provider in the United States. Morally and economically, then, this policy is a tragedy.
The administration response has been feeble, and ineffectual. White House spokesman Jay Carney said: "While there are those who take issue with the decision…American women will have access to preventive services, as they should.” Characterizing the outrage in the religious community as simply “taking issue” reveals the administration’s contempt for the faithful. As Carney further noted, such contempt comes from the top, saying "The president concurs in the decision."
Writing in USA Today this week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sought to justify her agency’s overreach by arguing that “virtually all” women use contraception at some point, and that the new policy has no effect on conscious clause protections for medical providers. Millions of Catholic women would object to her hypothesizing, and given the administration’s disrespect for moral objectors, those protections won’t last long.
Yet this is only the latest battle between Mr. Obama and the Catholic Church. Wooed by Mr. Obama’s campaign overtures towards reducing abortions and addressing social ills, many Catholics – even the socially conservative – cast their vote with Obama in 2008, and he captured fifty-two percent of the Catholic vote. At Pepperdine law school, we saw this first hand. Former Reagan official and stalwart Republican Doug Kmiec endorsed Obama in a book entitled, “Can a Catholic Support Him?”
Since 2008, the marriage between Mr. Obama and Catholics has not been an easy one. Kmiec subsequently resigned his Obama-bequeathed ambassadorship to Malta in protest of the State Department’s stifling his religious initiatives, pro-life congressional Democrats were excluded from Obamacare negotiations, and President Obama has done nothing to honor the commitment in his controversial 2009 Notre Dame commencement speech to find common ground with the faithful who disagree with him. With the recent HHS announcement, Mr. Obama has finally and irrevocably revealed that his feints in 2008 towards the faithful were just that.
It is said you can judge a man by his enemies. Mr. Obama has picked the wrong enemies, and is about to experience their judgment. There are seventy-seven million Catholics in the United States, and as a direct result of this policy, many are poised to express their anger electorally. This does not bode well for the president.
As the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, Catholics comprise a quarter of the electorate, and in nine of the past ten presidential elections, Catholics have sided with the winner. In 2004, white Catholics sided with George W. Bush. In 2008, Mr. Obama carried the Catholic vote and won. Come January 2013, it is likely the White House occupant will again have won the Catholic vote. It is increasingly likely this will not be Mr. Obama.