The president just announced a quicker than expected resolution of how the Affordable Care Act provisions on no-cost no co-pay contraceptive health insurance for all working women will be handled. The administration had been subject to scurrilous attacks from both the Catholic bishops and Republican candidates for his decision not to grant a religiously based exemption for Catholic inspired hospitals and universities that claim that providing that coverage is against Catholic teaching and therefore violates their religious freedom,
Even the president’s supporters were frustrated that the matter had not been successfully negotiated before HHS announced the rules. Today’s “accommodation” will raise those questions again and the mantra is bound to be that the administration was inept. I beg to differ. The president and Secretary Sebelius acted in the best interests of transparency and respect for difference. The proper relationship between public policy and religion is rightfully in flux and much remains to be done.
A reasonable middle ground position has been adopted. The President expressed a value all people of faith should agree with “no woman’s health should depend on where she works.” At the same time he found an administrative way to give faith based hospitals and other employers a way to offer the coverage indirectly. Almost everyone will find this a good solution, not a compromise. Of course the Catholic bishops and Republican candidates for their party’s nomination will still cry “religious discrimination. “
Not all of us are suitable candidates for dialogue and mutual respect. And that brings us back to the Obama administration’s early effort at common ground on abortion – and now contraception. The effort started early in 2009, with a half dozen or more meetings held at the White House and the promise of a report and a common ground agenda. A less ambitious goal was grounded in the belief that if people who disagreed big time on big issues actually met each other, the simple human act of talking and sharing some part of ones’ self would lead to civility and perhaps compassion for the other and demonization would lessen.
It did not work. Will Saletan put it succinctly in a Salon column on June 4, 2009: “Already, the two sides are sniping in the press and refusing the simplest concessions.” The report and agenda never materialized and the meetings were no more.
The issues of religious freedom, sexuality and reproduction continue to run into each other. We cannot, in a time where we need to focus on poverty, peace and unbridled consumption which is threatening our planet, continue to fight each other. We must heed the instinct that we could appeal to the “better angels of our nature.” Perhaps the White House is not the place for those who disagree but are open to hearing and listening to each other to come together. It never seems to transcend politics. The staff that handled the early meetings had no understanding of what such dialogue takes and looked for a quick fix.
But if we truly wish to avoid more conflicts like the ones we just went through on contraceptive insurance coverage someone who knows how to do this work needs to bring together people who really care, will commit to long term engagement ( the Israelis and Palestinians have been at it for two generations), and are not looking to win but to make peace. Where are the Quakers when you need them?
Frances Kissling | Feb 10, 2012 5:03 PM