Michelle Goldberg’s Lame, Arrogant Excuses for the Obama Birth Control Mandate

Hot off the heels of trashing Lila Rose, Newsweek’s Michelle Goldberg jumps into the ObamaCare-contraception fray with a Daily Beast column arguing that forcing Catholic institutions to offer birth control is no big deal. Unfortunately for the Obama Administration, however, her apologia is a train wreck of distortions and non sequiturs:

But many Catholic institutions are already operating in states that require contraceptive coverage, such as New York and California. Such laws are on the books in 28 states, and only eight of them exempt Catholic hospitals and universities. Nowhere has the Catholic Church shut down in response. 

Really? According to the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures, the actual number of states with religious exemptions is twenty, making the truth the exact opposite of what Goldberg describes. Maybe that has something to do with why Catholics would consider the White House’s decision a dramatic change in the status quo?

Besides, even if forty-five states mandated contraception coverage and none of them exempted religion, it would still be irrelevant. Constitutionally, the federal government has no legal authority to force private entities to offer a good or service, and morally, no level of government may justly compel people to engage in practices that violate their religious views.

Nationwide, major Catholic universities including Fordham, Georgetown, and DePaul all offer birth-control coverage. So does Dignity Health, until recently known as Catholic Healthcare West, the fifth-largest health system in the country. In Massachusetts, the six former Caritas Christi Catholic hospitals, which were recently acquired by Steward Health Care System, all complied with the state law.

So what? That’s their decision, and it’s the decision of other Catholics to decide whether they’re comfortable with those institutions’ interpretation of the faith. It’s not Michelle Goldberg’s—or Barack Obama’s—place to judge how well individual Catholics are living by their principles, or to use their example as an excuse to force other Catholics to loosen their own standards.

Speaking to Morning Joe on Tuesday, Obama adviser David Axelrod suggested that some compromise with the bishops may be in the works. “[W]e’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,” he said.

I’ll believe it when I see it. So far, that “respect” is sorely lacking—as Catholic League president Bill Donohue explained to Fox News’ Megyn Kelly on January 23, the feds’ current exemption doesn’t apply to outfits that hire or service non-Catholics. Ironically, the real-world effect of the government’s “compassion” is to encourage Catholics to discriminate against members of other faiths!

Those prerogatives are important, but they don’t trump the rights of the general public.

The “right” Goldberg is referring to doesn’t exist. To the extent that there’s a “right” to birth control (temporarily setting aside Griswold v. Connecticut and the abortive nature of certain contraceptives for the sake of argument), it’s at most the right to acquire it yourself; it is not the right to have someone else give it to you or help pay for it. Of all the roadblocks to making sound policy decisions in this country, confusing rights with entitlements is perhaps the most damaging.

That’s not an extreme notion—it’s one that [Mitt] Romney subscribed to when he signed a law forcing Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.

Again, Goldberg describes the exact opposite of reality. As I wrote about last week, Romney vetoed that law, got overridden by the legislature, looked for another way to protect conscience rights, and gave up when the lawyers told him it wouldn’t work. Willful distortion or lazy ignorance? I report, you decide.

And make no mistake: health plans that exclude services used only by women constitute a form of discrimination. That’s why in 2000, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that employers that cover prescription drugs but do not cover contraception are in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Such employers have “circumscribed the treatment options available to women, but not to men,” it said. The EEOC’s ruling made no exemptions for religiously affiliated organizations. Indeed, in 2009, responding to a lawsuit, the EEOC ruled that the Catholic college Belmont Abbey discriminated against women when it refused to cover birth control. 

Interesting, but that illustrates nothing more than the insanity of our current regulatory regime. The proper, constitutional purpose of original anti-discrimination laws from the civil rights and women’s suffrage eras was to keep the government from violating the rights of individuals on the basis of race or sex, not to transform the American legal system into a convoluted maze of regulations and bureaucratic whims in which issues wholly unrelated to rights are filtered through gender prisms and bean counters obsess over a perfectly equal distribution of ever-increasing government handouts to every conceivable group.

Michelle Goldberg represents a powerful, arrogant ideology that won’t hesitate to trample on the people’s liberties and convictions, then flippantly suggest something’s wrong with them for resisting. Rather than defuse the controversy, she has inadvertently displayed why Catholics, and all other men & women of goodwill, are right to be outraged.

  • Hovish13

    *sarcasm*

    But it’s not about religious freedom at all! Republicans and the religious don’t like women! 
    *facepalm*

  • Anonymous

    Even if the EEOC ruled that contraception has to be covered if other prescriptions are, what the HHS mandate says is that coverage for contraceptives and sterilization for women, “[S]hall not impose any cost sharing requirements”. In other words, these services have to be provided free of charge. No insurance (that I know of) provides anything free of charge.

    Furthermore, according to Guttmacher, the government and Medicare already each fund family planning, upwards of $1 billion per year. Why should employers have to pay for it if the government already does? Will that funding stop? No. In all truth, the Affordable Care Act expands that funding. So why make employers fund something that is already fully covered by the government, and which coverage by the government will be expanded for?

    Do they really think that the American public is that stupid? I may be reaching, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or mathematician to figure this out:
    – The amount of women of childbearing years in the US (about 62 million)
    – The fact that around 30% don’t need contraception (they’re sterile, pregnant, want children, aren’t sexually active, etc.) (that leaves around 40-45 million)
    – The fact that not every woman believes in using contraception or wants that kind of poison in their body
    – The cost of contraception
    – How much is spent by the government every year to cover contraception
    – Plus the fact that the coverage will be expanded.
    The country does not need that much money to cover a years worth of contraception for women, especially when employers and insurance companies will be footing the bill, because, last I checked, unemployment dropped to 8.3%, so most people are covered by an employer’s insurance. Where will the money be going to once this mandate kicks in? Will they be forcing us all to use contraception? Or is that money going to something else on the “family planning” agenda?

  • Oedipa

    Oboy, the war on Michelle Goldberg goes on. I appreciate your counter-points, but don’t appreciate your attempt to dismiss her as lazy, ignorant, or a willful “distortionist”.

    The piece on Ms. Rose isn’t nearly as negative as you make it out to be (in fact, it paints her as a pretty effective provocateur), and the contraceptive column is a pretty good summary of how liberals view the policy.

    The broad picture is this: if contraception becomes a big campaign issue in 2012 (Santorum wants to outlaw it for criminysakes!), it won’t bode well for the party that loses every women who thinks we actually live in the 21st century.

    • Astra2002

      Women have been taking care of  contraception quite well without Catholic employers paying for it. Contraceptive methods that the Catholic Churrch opposes are not limited to women. The Church opposes vasectomies, for example. Methods of contraception can be free if people want to use them and are pretty effective. Some are pretty scary however. I’m sure all have seen the tv lawyers soliciting clients who have had strokes, blood clots, massive infections from various pills and devices. I personally know two women in vegetative states due to strokes while birth control pills. A Catholic relative, who had an IUD, was hospitalized for months with pelvic inflammatory disease.
      I, on the other hand, have had no luck getting a nutritionist, getting help with an exercise program, getting weight loss drugs, getting pulmonary or even cardiac rehab-none covered by insurance. Obesity due to underlying disease or poor nutrition is the real uncovered major health issue-not contraception. Somehow, people found a way to pay for the 50,000,000 abortions, much less pills over the past decades.So, this NOT being a REAL health ACCESS issue,or EEO issue, since the prohibitions include those for men too, religious people can only conclude that the government simply wants to pull religion in line, dictate what can be taught, control what individuals do. 21st Century women who want free birth control are smart enough to get itjust like they did in the 20th: without the need for the antiquated old Catholic Church.

    • http://twitter.com/CalFreiburger Calvin Freiburger

      But as I demonstrate above, Michelle Goldberg’s article does contain falsehoods. The only explanations for them are that she either a) was misinformed and too lazy to fact-check her article before publishing it, or b) was intentionally trying to mislead her readers. There’s no door number three.

      Santorum does NOT want to outlaw contraception: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/scott-whitlock/2012/01/05/chris-matthews-rick-santorum-wants-theocracy-will-trump-constitution

      Contraception itself is not the campaign issue. Freedom is.

  • Del

    This mandate is not about contraception.  The fight is over religious freedom.  We’ve had enough.

    I live in a state that already mandates contraception coverage.  Our bishop decided to comply with that law, but under protest.  Now the bishops have decided to stop complying, and fully assert our freedom of conscience.  I like the new strategy.

    I repeat:  The fight is not just about contraception.  We must insist that
    – HHS NEVER HAD THE AUTHORITY to insist that Catholic institutions had to pay for contraception. 
    – HHS NEVER HAD THE AUTHORITY to insist that Catholic business owners have to pay for contraception. 
    – Illinois NEVER HAD THE AUTHORITY to force Catholic Charities to place foster children with same-sex parents, or exit the adoption business.
    – New Jersey NEVER HAD THE AUTHORITY to force a Methodist chapel on the Boardwalk to let same-sex couples “get married” there. 
    – Schools NEVER HAVE THE AUTHORITY to force Moslem girls to remove their hair coverings.

    When the Obama Administration tells us that they have “changed their mind” and they will “permit Catholic institutions to have an exemption (for now),” we must insist that this is not good enough.  We need our conscience protections and “free exercise of religion” to be protected, permanently.

    And we’ll vote for the people who will ensure that protection.

  • smacduff

    You are misquoting the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures study to which you link.  If you are looking for states that exempt both religious universities and religious hospitals, the count IS 8.  The number you use, 20, refers to the number of states that “allow certain employers and insurers to refuse to comply with the mandate.”  The semantics are really important here.  There is a distinction between exemptions for organizations and exemptions for an insurer.  And some states exempt one type of religious organization but not another.  Be accurate.