On Contraception Mandate, Obama Blunders Into the Culture Wars

Obama's contraception "compromise" is a gimmick that voters will see right through.

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Up to now, the Obama administration has been fighting for changes in public policy confined largely to the economic sphere, stimulating class envy and seeking to divide the entitlement-minded among us from those who manage to make their way in a generally free-market system.

They haven't been completely successful but they haven't really failed either.

All that changed last week when the White House stumbled backwards into the culture wars. And they did so by announcing a mandate requiring employer-provided health insurance include coverage for unreproductive health services including various forms of birth control.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should Catholic and Other Religious Institutions Have to Cover Birth Control?]

This new mandate, which actually stems from Obama's signature healthcare law, has been in the making for some months. There were those, however, inside the White House who held out hope that there would be some way to "split the baby" before it was announced so as not to anger some very powerful interest groups who might not approve of it.

They failed. The policy was announced and the blowback hit with the force of hurricane winds. The principle complainants regarding the new policy have been America's Catholic bishops, who argue that the mandate forces the Church, which does not condone artificial birth control, to go against the tenets of its faith.

The Church's opposition was in fact so severe that the administration quickly issued what was supposed to be a face-saving compromise that opponents of the mandate were quick to attack as meaningless. On ABC's This Week, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan said, "To paraphrase the bishops' letter, this thing, it's a distinction without a difference. It's an accounting gimmick or a fig leaf. It's not a compromise."

[Vote: Does Obama's Contraceptive Compromise Go Far Enough?]

"The president's doubled down," Ryan said, adding, "If this is what the president's willing to do in a tough election year, imagine what he's going to do to implement the rest of his healthcare law after an election."

In fact, the so-called compromise may really change nothing at all. As two scholars at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation wrote for National Review Online, "Proponents of Obamacare's anti-conscience mandate on preventive care kept telling critics to wait and see what the final rules held. As of Friday afternoon, we now know. It wasn't worth the wait."

"The Obama administration Friday afternoon put into federal law the very regulation that drew objections," they wrote, "from almost 200 Catholic bishops, some 50 religiously affiliated colleges and universities, 65 North American bishops of Orthodox churches, numerous other Jewish, Evangelical and Lutheran leaders, and even some liberals — and without changing so much as a comma."

Nonetheless, Obama is now firmly involved in the culture wars, which the so-called "Reagan Democrats" taught us back in the 1980s will cause voters to cross party lines when they cast their presidential ballots. Sensitive about many social issues, they are usually reliable, church-going folk, which places them on the opposite side of the president in this attack on religious liberty.

  • See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.
  • See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.
  • See a slide show of 10 things that are (and aren’t) in the healthcare bill.