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.