- Robert Bradley,
Illinois State University professor of politics
Health care mandate pits birth control, Catholic Church
As the 2012 presidential election approaches, the main issues seem to have shifted from economic to social. President Obama recently enacted a mandate that requires all institutions that provide health insurance to its employees to include birth control and Plan B pills in its coverage. This decision is proving to be more controversial than he may have anticipated.
Roman Catholic institutions, such as hospitals and soup kitchens, are not exempt from the mandate. The Catholic Church has historically been strongly opposed to the use of birth control and Plan B pills, which it considers abortion. The mandate has outraged Catholic officials and practicing members.
“The issue here is being made into one of women’s rights, but that is not the case at all,” a local parish priest who requested his name not be published said. “The issue here is that the government has taken a look at the Catholic Church and said that its activities are not religious activities.”
Illinois State University junior Benjamin Coimbra believes just the opposite.
“This is the 21st century. There’s an overpopulation issue. All women should have the right to free birth control,” he said.
The Catholic Church has declared the mandate a violation of its First Amendment rights, citing the free exercise clause, which guarantees the right to practice a religion in whatever manner you want.
“Basically, Catholics are viewing this as Obama intruding on the right of Catholics to freely practice their religion,” Robert Bradley, ISU professor of politics, said.
Obama originally had pushed to require Catholic institutions to directly supply employees with contraception, but eventually backed down by requiring the healthcare plans made available to employees to provide it instead. This, Bradley says, is being seen as a more “indirect violation” of the church’s rights.
The reason for Obama’s backing down, Bradley said, may be due to the presence of several Catholic Democrats in Congress. If they voted on the mandate, they would be put into the position of either maintaining their image of being a “true” Catholic or voting Democrat.
Timing is also an issue in this case. The mandate was issued in close proximity to the fall election, a decision that Bradley believes to be a political mistake.
“If you’re going to do this, you should’ve done this a while ago,” he said, “Obama hasn’t been very politically astute on some things.” Bradley also added that the timing has brought more attention to the mandate. The mandate has given a lot of fuel to Republican presidential hopefuls.
Coimbra agrees, “The whole thing really seems to be being blown out of proportion.”
However, not all students felt the same. To Ellen Lee, a French education major and a practicing Catholic, the issue is important.
“It seems unfair that the government can force a private institution to do something it feels is morally wrong.”