Catholic League chief Bill Donohue blasted President Barack Obama’s revised stance on HHS mandates for contraceptives and the morning-after abortion pill on Friday, calling it “the most serious infringement by the federal government on the rights of Catholics and others in 200 years.”
After a deluge of criticism, Obama stepped to the podium Friday afternoon in an effort to stem the political damage. The deal he announced would shift the responsibility for offering women free contraceptives, pregnancy-ending drugs, and sterilizations away from faith-based organizations, which had moral objections, and onto the backs of insurance companies.
The president ordered that the insurance industry would have to pay all costs, including co-pays, for those procedures. Although that appeared on the surface to take the matter out of the hands of faith-based organizations altogether, conservatives reacted angrily nonetheless.
Donohue told Newsmax that several Catholic insurance companies would fall under the revised directive. Also, many faith-based organizations self-insure themselves, which presumably means the members would still have to pay for the reproductive choices of others.
“Quite frankly, he’s adding insult to injury,” Donahue said. “He must think the Catholics are stupid.”
Other conservative leaders reacted strongly as well. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony’s list organization, stated that:
“Forcing insurance companies to be directly responsible for providing abortion-inducing drugs and forcing religious organizations to cooperate is an assault on religious freedom.”
Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel for the religious-liberty organization The Becket Fund, stated: “This is a false ‘compromise’ designed to protect the president’s re-election chances, not to protect the right of conscience. Hundreds, if not thousands, of religious institutions are still left out in the cold and will be forced to violate their religious convictions.”
Another activist, Heather R. Higgins, the president of Independent Women’s Voice and a staunch foe of the president’s healthcare reforms, predicts that the HHS mandate kerfuffle is just one of a series of dilemmas the administration will face as it further defines the rules associated with implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which polls show is unpopular.
“Obamacare is a monumental abridgement of our freedoms, and this is just one example of it,” she tells Newsmax. “And the fact that this has only been changed because there’s an election coming up should give everyone pause. Because once there’s no more election coming up, what recourse are they going to have? Obama went along with this until there was blowback.”
The insurance industry appeared caught off balance by the decision to shift the burden to private enterprise. On Friday afternoon, AHIP press secretary Robert Zirkelbach issued the following statement:
“Health plans have long offered contraceptive coverage to employers as part of comprehensive, preventive benefits that aim to improve patient health and reduce health care cost growth.
“We are concerned about the precedent this proposed rule would set. As we learn more about how this rule would be operationalized, we will provide comments through the regulatory process.”
Now that the president has staked out his territory on the insurance mandate issue, attention will shift to how much political damage his re-election effort has sustained as a result of the controversy. There, opinions differ.
“The controversy has not been well handled,” Democratic pollster, author, and Fox News contributor Douglas Schoen tells Newsmax. “The White House bowed to political reality to end a firestorm of protest. Now, the best asset for the White House and President Obama is a divided Republican field.”
Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said it become evident the administration had stumbled when left-leaning pundits such as E.J. Dionne started criticizing the administration’s position that religious institutions must provide, through their insurance carriers, health services that they find morally objectionable on religious grounds.
But Kondik expects the matter to blow over and be long forgotten by the time voters go to the polls in November.
“Catholics went for [Obama] 54 percent to 45 percent in 2008,” Kondik said, “but there's not much evidence that this is a monolithic group of voters.
“My guess is that the 54 percent who supported him last time will be fine with this, and the 45 percent who didn't won't. Ultimately, I think this episode will be largely forgotten by the time the election rolls around, and today's backtracking likely makes the issue go away to a large extent.”
He added: “Whether Obama wins or loses will be dictated in large part by the economy, with smaller issues like this probably not making much impact either way.”
Donohue said the new Obama stance contains a “devious element,” in that it seeks to divide what he calls “a rather loosely formed and tenuous coalition of liberal Catholics joining with conservative Catholics on this issue in opposing Obamacare. This is designed to peel off the liberal opposition in the Catholic community, bring them back into the fold,” he said.
He predicted the strategy would work “to some extent, but it won’t work as well as he thinks.”
Donohue told Newsmax that he believes the president’s ultimate objective is to require Catholic institutions to perform abortions.
“Never in my life have I seen such a lust for abortion rights as I’ve seen in the Obama administration, and a contempt for religious liberty rights, particularly contempt for Catholics -- but not exclusively,” he said.
Donahue said Obama’s new stance on the issue effectively means that “employees who abide by the Catholic Church’s strictures” will have no choice but to pay for others’ abortion-related drugs and contraception.
“No wonder Planned Parenthood is waving the flag. They got what they wanted,” he added. “…We know exactly what he’s doing. And he will be remembered as the president who took the culture war to the boiling point. If that’s the way he wants to be remembered, fine. But it’s not going to persuade practicing Catholics.”
Said Donohue: “We’re not going to forget this in November.”
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