Peoria Journal Star Editorial--February 14, 2012
From a public health and personal freedom perspective, those who wish to engage in family planning should be able to do so, with the intricacies that go into that decision a fundamentally private matter. From a religious liberty view, churches and their affiliates should not be required by government to do things that violate their consciences.
Between those walls one hoped the president could find room for an accommodation regarding his wishes for free access to insurance coverage for contraception that would, if not make everybody happy, at least compel them to return the swords to their scabbards. Religious leaders, most vocally America's Catholic bishops, had objected to the initial mandate, arguing that it was contrary to their moral convictions and a First Amendment that begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."
President Obama thought a workable compromise had been found last week, announcing he would pursue a policy that, like Hawaii's, targets insurance companies rather than employers so that "religious organizations won't have to pay for these services, and no religious institution will have to provide these services directly." Some of those straddling this divide had wondered aloud why the White House hadn't gone that route in the first place.
Of course, it hit a brick wall with opponents, who found the wording a bit too careful. The bishops have no intention of participating, directly or indirectly, in any practice they consider an evil. Providing access to abortifacients falls into that category for them. "There are two other branches of government that may treat our concerns more seriously," said a spokesman.
In short, this fight is a long way from over. Sigh.
The battle lines are drawn, and this page has heard ... and heard ... and heard from both camps. Some observations:
"It's not about contraception," said GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum. "It's about economic liberty." It's disingenuous to say it's not about contraception. How many times have the bishops said recently that "pregnancy is not a disease"? One doubts this uproar would have accompanied a government command to provide flu vaccines.
The White House has been quick to note that 28 states already have similar measures, and eight don't even exempt churches. So why hasn't this fuss been raised before? Church leaders will forgive those who ask, as the director of the admittedly progressive Catholics United group did, whether the opposition "serve(s) the interests of a political agenda, not the needs of the American people."Even for those who believe in a strict, constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state - though all too conveniently most tend not to explore both sides of that coin - no religious organization has carte blanche. Unfortunately, in recent memory great damage was done to the church, diminishing its moral authority, when some in its hierarchy failed to recognize their obligations to notify and cooperate with civil authorities as crimes against children were committed within their ranks. No right is absolute.
- On the flip side, Obama seemed flabbergasted and frustrated by the original firestorm. One is surprised he was surprised in this hyper-charged, hyper-partisan environment. He and others want to argue that hospitals, schools and social service agencies don't necessarily further a religious mission. That's debatable, especially in parochial schools that educate children not only in the three Rs but in the faith. The president also seems to subscribe to the myth that he can declare something "free" and magically, it becomes so. If someone is getting contraceptives for nothing, someone else - the employer, other health care consumers - is subsidizing them.Yes, some religious institutions already provide this coverage to employees. Doctors affiliated with Peoria's Catholic hospital can prescribe oral contraceptives for patients, though it must be made clear they're "acting separately from OSF." If some institutions are in noncompliance with the bishops' current stance, that's also an argument for letting the marketplace work. The fair counter is that but for government intervention historically, many reproductive and other health care procedures for women might never have been covered.One also is told that polling shows most Americans on the White House's side, that these institutions employ people of many faiths who are not obligated to subscribe to the beliefs of their employer, that 98 percent of U.S. adult women have used contraception. To which one might respond that constitutional rights are not subordinate to public opinion; that no one has a constitutional right to a job; and if that's so, what's the access problem in need of being resolved? Finally, disagreement exists on whether some of these contraceptives are abortifacients. That depends on how you define a pregnancy; there's not enough space left to get into that.All in all, this page continues to believe the White House overstepped at first. Beyond that, one agrees with the bishops' first-blush reaction to the compromise - later retracted - that this was a "step in the right direction." Regardless, between the "war on religion" and the "war on women" camps, there may be no bridging this divide.We settle political disputes in America legislatively, to be sure, but ultimately through the courts and elections. Fortunately, both those opportunities present themselves this year. We'll just have to see those processes through.
My comment:I appreciate the Journal Star devoting so much time to the issue of President Obama vs. the Catholic Church and religious liberties. Legal scholars are necessary who can debate all sides of this important issue. And legislation needs to occur to settle the issue.
Many politicians are considered sincere and many are not. Same with Catholic Bishops.
It has seemed strange to me that the Catholic Diocese of Peoria seems to be talking out of both sides of their mouth. The Journal Star editorial this morning states that Bishops have no intention of participating directly or indirectly in any practice they consider evil.
Does Bishop Jenky view oral contraceptive use as evil?
Two weeks ago Bishop Jenky wrote that Catholic institutions should not have to cover oral contraceptives in their insurance plans. But at the same time, the Diocese and OSF still concur on a policy that they designed over 15 years ago which allows OSF physicians to prescribe oral contraceptives from OSF offices for OSF patients throughout the entire OSF Health Care System. And they did this to keep OSF competitive in the medical marketplace.
The Journal Star editorial this morning states:
Yes, some religious institutions already provide this coverage to employees. Doctors affiliated with Peoria's Catholic hospital can prescribe oral contraceptives for patients, though it must be made clear they're 'acting separately from OSF.'
I really doubt that OSFs patients who go to their OSF doctor at an OSF office and come out with their oral contraceptives understand that OSF is not responsible for this.
It seems to me that there is cooperation in a direct or indirect way here from the Diocese who could stop this coverage if they really wanted to. Bishop Jenky cannot tell the Sisters at OSF what color to paint Saint Francis Medical Center, but he can intervene at OSF on matters of morals and faith.
If it means that OSF-SFMC needs to lose its tax exempt status and not accept federal funds to be a Catholic hospital more than in name only, maybe that is what should happen. It sure would take some of the pressure off of Bishop Jenky and he would not have to cooperate with evil. The Diocese may lose the financial support of OSF, but legally and morally the Diocese would be doing the right thing.
John A. Carroll, MD