Obama Administration Bends Over Backwards (Again) to Accommodate Religious Opposition to Birth Control Coverage August 22, 2014

Obama Administration Bends Over Backwards (Again) to Accommodate Religious Opposition to Birth Control Coverage

Remember when we thought the Supreme Court had only allowed an exception to the contraception mandate to closely-held businesses?

They were just kidding about that.

Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian school in Illinois, already had the ability to avoid offering emergency contraception to employees and students. All they had to do was fill out a form for their insurance provider saying they didn’t want to cover it directly, and the insurance provider would have to cover it separately. Problem solved, right?

No. Wheaton administrators weren’t happy with that solution. They felt it was still too much of a burden on their religious conscience, because they were indirectly supporting abortion. (Which isn’t even true, but that doesn’t seem to matter.)

Last month, the Supreme Court said that Wheaton had a point. It was too much of a burden. Instead, all the school had to do was let the government know directly it didn’t want to provide emergency contraception and it would be up to the government to figure it out from there.

The female justices on the court were rightfully furious. Justice Sotomayor pointed out that the substantial “burden” that Wheaton wanted to get out of was essentially a tiny bit of paperwork. And if the Court let them get away with that, where did the slippery slope stop?

Today, the Obama administration announced another compromise to that compromise that would allow female employees at Wheaton College (and similar non-profits) to still obtain birth control coverage without their employers being complicit in the process:

For the non-profits that object to the form — arguing that signing it triggers the very birth control coverage they oppose — the new rule allows those employers to write to HHS directly, instead of filling out the form. The Supreme Court first suggested the letter-writing option, and so far the litigants have accepted it. But there was some dispute among legal scholars before about whether the letter would result in actual coverage for the women who worked at those companies. The new rule clarifies that it does.

It’s an unnecessary complication in what should really be a simple, common-sense matter, but religion and common sense don’t often go together and this is hopefully a bandage that works.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State applauded the fix:

“Americans rely on access to safe and affordable forms of birth control,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It’s unfortunate that the administration has had to jump through so many hoops to meet the demands of ultra-conservative religious groups that refuse to accept cultural realities.”

Lynn said the latest accommodation, while well-intentioned, may not resolve the matter. Some fundamentalist Christian groups and the Roman Catholic bishops, he asserted, are determined to deny access to birth control to as many Americans as possible.

“At some point,” Lynn said, “we must face that fact that this debate is not about ‘religious liberty.’ It is about certain religious groups trying to impose their out-of-touch theology on unwilling American workers and students.”

That gets to the heart of the matter right there. If this was really about religious liberty, the problem would be fixed and the fights would be over. But they won’t be. Conservative groups will just find another way to play victim, as they always do.

(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were posted earlier)

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