In the ongoing saga of the Obama administration’s efforts to implement a mandate for employer-sponsored insurance coverage of contraception services, the secular-socialists-versus-people-of-faith framing conservatives have sought to impose has been radically undermined by the willingness of people operating Catholic hospitals, colleges and charities—the faith-based social services supposedly most threatened by the mandate—to show support for the president’s efforts to accommodate them without abandoning his basic position.
Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association deservedly got the most attention for immediately going out on a limb to welcome the president’s modified mandate proposal (which provided that insurers themselves would bear the cost of contraception services for employees of religiously-affiliated institutions that objected to paying for the coverage), even as the Catholic Bishops and a host of Republican politicians were still bellowing their outrage at a supposed “war on religion.” It certainly drew notice that her statement of support came out at almost precisely the same time as that of the president of Planned Parenthood, a nice symbol of unexpected convergence that couldn’t have looked much better for the White House.
But as Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times reports, Keehan is not alone:
The contrast in responses from Catholic organizations has been more a matter of tone than content. They are all in agreement that certain issues still need to be worked out, like what to do about Catholic institutions that are “self-insured,” meaning that they act as both the insurer and the employer.
Yet some struck an optimistic tone, greeting the White House’s announcement as a good-faith step forward. Those groups included the Catholic Health Association, which represents 600 hospitals and 1,400 health care facilities, plus Catholic Charities, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. They said that details like what to do about “self-insurance” could be worked out.
The Rev. Gregory Lucey, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, which represents 28 institutions, said: “I really am appreciative of what the president did last Friday. I’m optimistic and hopeful, and I feel the religious liberty issue is addressed.”
Meanwhile, polling of lay Catholics on the subject is in a bit of disarray given the slow spread of information about the mandate as modified and the very different wording deployed by different pollsters. But it is very clear that Catholic opinion isn’t significantly different from that of the rest of the population, despite the much-publicized thundering of the Bishops. The latest major survey, by CBS/NYT, showed 61% of Americans, and of Catholics specifically, broadly supporting a contraception mandate. If such numbers are even remotely accurate, the effort to mobilize Catholics against Obama on this issue has simply failed.
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