Women's rights are human rights.
On Friday, President Obama announced an "accommodation" to religions that oppose birth control and were "outraged" that the Obama Administration had chosen to apply the provisions of the Affordable Care Act to them. Specifically, they were "outraged" that they were required to comply with provisions for contraceptive care, which experts consider an important aspect of health care for women. The president shifted the financial responsibility for such care to insurance companies. Presumably, this change in accounting entries will satisfy those "profound" moral objections.
Before the president's announcement, the past week had provided us the spectacle of ostensibly "progressive" Catholic men pontificating (pun intended) on how it was wrong of the Obama Administration to enact public policy supported by science and common sense because some leaders of certain religions object to the requirement that their religions must comply with the law and the public policy of the government. That a hack with a long history of sexism and misogyny, like Chris Matthews, bloviates in this manner, seems neither surprising nor disappointing. We all know what he is. When pols likes Bob Casey and Joe Biden do it, well, pols are pols and do what they do. (ASIDE: I hope this episode ends once and for all the silly notion that Joe Biden is an acceptable alternative for Democratic nominee for president in 2016. He isn't.) When E.J. Dionne does it, it is both surprising and disappointing. Playing the role usually reserved for "even the liberal New Republic," in a Jan. 29 Washington Post column titled Obama’s breach of faith over contraceptive ruling, Dionne blatantly betrayed progressive values:
Speaking as a Catholic, I wish the Church would be more open on the contraception question. But speaking as an American liberal who believes that religious pluralism imposes certain obligations on government, I think the Church’s leaders had a right to ask for broader relief from a contraception mandate that would require it to act against its own teachings. The administration should have done more to balance the competing liberty interests here.
Dionne argues that the government should have ignored science and public policy, which strongly support the inclusion of contraceptives as part of the minimum health care benefit, in order to appease irrational, archaic and unfollowed (by 98 percent of Catholics no less) religious teachings. Dionne argues for relegating women's health to the back of the bus (not an empty analogy as you will see presently). Thus Dionne writes:
“The tensions and the suspicions on each side of the religious divide will have to be squarely addressed,” Obama said back in 2006. “And each side will need to accept some ground rules for collaboration.” I wish the president had tried harder to find such rules here.
More below the fold.
To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what President Obama meant by the line that Dionne admires. I took it to be a typical pol's throwaway line. If it meant, as Dionne appears to suggest, that public policy must be gutted to appease irrationalities and bigotries of religions, then it makes manifest that Dionne is the betrayer here, of progressive values. And especially when it comes to women. One wonders why Dionne does not choose to berate New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who failed to demonstrate a "sensitivity to the feelings and intellectual concerns of religious believers" (Dionne's phrase) when Bloomberg condemned Brooklyn Hasidic Jewish leaders who insisted that women sit at the back of buses:
Hasidic passengers on the B110, a city franchise bus that is open to the public but run by a private company, were insisting that women ride in the back of the bus to prevent the physical contact between members of opposite sexes that is prohibited under Hasidic tradition.
The mayor said that segregating men and women was “obviously not permitted” on public buses.
How "insensitive" of the mayor one assumes Dionne must be thinking. Dionne's demand for sensitivity surely cannot be based on whose religious teaching is in question, right? To be consistent in his principle of "sensitivity," Dionne must of course desire that Mayor Bloomberg "accommodate" the religious beliefs of Hasidic Jews. Similarly, Dionne must support the position argued in the 1983 Supreme Court case Bob Jones University v. United States:
Petitioners contend that, even if the Commissioner's policy is valid as to nonreligious private schools, that policy cannot constitutionally be applied to schools that engage in racial discrimination on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs. [n28] [p603] As to such schools, it is argued that the IRS construction of § 170 and § 501(c)(3) violates their free exercise rights under the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment.
Where's the "sensitivity" no doubt Dionne asked? And when looking at other Supreme Court cases, no doubt Dionne would demand "sensitivity" to religions when it came to application of, for example, child labor laws.
In fact, I doubt very much Dionne would object to the lack of "sensitivity" in those cases. I think Dionne is evidencing a penchant, found in too many progressive Catholic men (see Joe Biden, Leon Panetta, Bob Casey, Tim Kaine, Bill Daley) to jettison concern for sound and scientifically supported public policy when it comes to icky women's health issues.
This willingness to jettison concern for women's health in an effort to be "sensitive" to religions is an affront to progressive values. This betrayal by politicians should be met with disqualification for support for higher office (manifesting in primaries or otherwise is a separate question). This betrayal by hacks should be made known. (Tweety sucks!)
Coming from E.J. Dionne, it is extremely disappointing. I expected better.
POST SCRIPT: In the wake of the Obama "accommodation," E.J. Dionne writes:
President Obama did today what he should have done at the very beginning: He honored the fact that religious groups, including the Catholic Church, had legitimate religious liberty claims in the battle over a contraception mandate under the new health care law. And he did so while still holding to his commitment to expanding contraception coverage as broadly as possible.
The problem with Dionne's unprogressive formulation is simply this -who gets to decide when a "religious liberty claim" is legitimate? The very exercise of determining "legitimacy" of a "religious liberty claim" is oxymoronic. On the philosphical point (as opposed to the political point), Charles Pierce has the much better (and progressive) argument:
The Church has claimed — and the president has tacitly accepted — the right to deny even its employees of other faiths the health-care services of which it doesn't approve on strictly doctrinal grounds. That is not an issue of "religious liberty." That's the enshrinement of religious thuggery in the secular law. By accepting that frame, the president has left himself dependent on the avaricious to bail him out against the arrogant. This is not a comfortable place to be.
Consider this possibility -- what if the Catholic bishops say that since their employment of persons is the means by which persons are eligible for birth control under the Obama accommodation, then they should have the right to prohibit their employees from getting contraception care? How can Dionne distinguish this "religious liberty" claim from the one he is arguing in favor of? There is no logical difference in the positions.
A progressive would understand this and not argue for a "religious liberty claim" that a religion should have "the right to deny even its employees of other faiths the health-care services of which it doesn't approve on strictly doctrinal grounds." Yet this is what Dionne is arguing for. It is a betrayal of progressive values.
Post Post Script - It's no longer a possibility, as the Catholic bishops make the "religious liberty" claim I hypothesized above. No word on whether Dionne thinks the President should "honor the fact that religious groups, including the Catholic Church, had legitimate religious liberty claims in the battle over a contraception mandate under the new health care law" on this as well.