Rich Lowry: Phony contraception crisis will dog Obama

About a month ago, people who thought religious institutions shouldn't be forced to pay for things they morally oppose were unremarkable, boring even. Now, they are waging a heinous War on Women.

Through the twisted logic of statism run amok, opposition to a new Health and Human Services mandate forcing employers to buy insurance covering contraceptives becomes opposition to access to contraceptives altogether. White House spokesman Jay Carney calls a Senate bill to allow employers to forgo buying coverage for services they oppose — as they have throughout the nation's entire history up to this point — "dangerous and wrong."

Three Democratic women senators, Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Barbara Boxer (California) and Patty Murray (Washington), wrote in The Wall Street Journal that critics of the mandate "are trying to force their politics on women's personal health-care decisions." How are they proposing to do that exactly? The Catholic bishops are merely fighting to keep institutions affiliated with their church from getting coerced into participating in what they consider a moral wrong. They are the agents of a status quo that the day before yesterday wasn't considered objectionable, let alone an assault on women's health.

Supporters of the mandate like the three senators cite the statistic from the Guttmacher Institute that 99 percent of women who have been sexually active in the U.S. have used birth control. This doesn't sound like a country facing a crisis of contraception. But prescription contraceptives are expensive, the senators argue, costing as much as $600 a year. (Or, looked at another way, less than $60 a month.)

Never mind that a vast government apparatus exists to provide poor women access to contraceptives, from Medicaid and community health centers to Title X. There are roughly 4,500 Title X-funded clinics around the country. They are required to provide free birth control to the poor and subsidized birth control to people with incomes between 100 percent and 250 percent of poverty. They serve about 5 million people a year.

By any reasonable standard, we are one of the most lavishly contracepted societies in the history of the planet. Whoever wrote the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus circa 1800 B.C., with its references to crude contraceptives, would be shocked and awed at the bright, cheery display of condoms at the average drugstore. At, a pedestrian pack of 12 goes for about $10, with no stigma attached.

A Centers for Disease Control report this year found that among teen mothers who had unintended pregnancies, only 13 percent said they had trouble getting access to birth control. Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation, an expert on out-of-wedlock births, says the category of unplanned pregnancies is more ambiguous than it sounds. It includes women who weren't planning a pregnancy right away but were still thinking about getting pregnant so weren't zealous in their use of contraception.

Of all the causes of the explosion in illegitimate births, limited access to contraception can't be high on the list. At the same time that we have seen a profusion of contraceptives that are dazzling in their variety, impressive in their efficacy and democratic in their widespread accessibility, out-of-wedlock births have gone from 10 percent in 1970 to 42 percent today (largely among poor women with access to government-provided contraceptives).

In its extension to religious institutions, the HHS mandate can only reach a very narrow slice of the population. Women who aren't poor enough to get government assistance, yet aren't well off enough to afford their own contraception, can't get any other help, and have no alternative but to work for an objecting religious institution. On behalf of this vanishingly small number of women, the Obama administration is willing to risk a political backlash and a rebuke in the courts.

If the mandate were only about extending contraception coverage, exempting religious institutions would be obvious. But it's more than that. It is about bringing institutions thought to be retrograde to heel, and discrediting their morality. It is kulturkampf disguised as public health.

Rich Lowry is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached via email at:

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JOANNE MOORE's picture

When the Catholic church is ....

run by women I might listen to what they say about contraceptives. Until then they can kiss my butt.

Betty Davies's picture

Companies have no business forcing their beliefs on women

The Catholic church hopes to force its religious beliefs and practices on NON-Catholic women who work for it (e.g., for Catholic colleges, universities, and social service agencies).

President Obama is standing up for American women against this affront. I am grateful to him.

If the church wants to start paying property taxes and doing without Federal money for these institutions, it can offer whatever insurance it pleases to its workers. But as long as it accepts Federal money it must obey Federal rules--and not picking and choosing what health insurance benefits to offer is one of those rules.

How would you feel if a company you worked for was owned by someone whose religion opposed blood transfusions, even to save your life--and insisted that if you wanted a transfusion, you'd have to pay for that coverage yourself?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Blood transfusions and birth

Blood transfusions and birth control hardly passes the straight face test from an analogous standpoint.

Betty Davies's picture

Verbal abstract reasoning

Both are types of health care. Both are covered in a typical health insurance policy. The absence of either could result in life-threatening health problems.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You're stretching. The

You're stretching. The Catholic Church is not denying non-Catholics access contraceptives any more than they are denying ANYONE access to blood transfusions.

Betty Davies's picture

It's not a stretch.

The Catholic church aims to force non-Catholics who work for it to pay for the portion of their insurance that covers contraception. They are attempting to enforce their religious practices upon people who do not belong to their church. They hope to get a Federal law changed so they can do so.

Another religious organization, or even merely a company boss, that was against blood transfusions (and there is at least one religious group that abhors blood transfusions, and refuses them even if it means a person dies) could choose not to offer insurance coverage that included blood transfusions--if the current flap about insurance works out the way the conservatives hope it will.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The Church has the right to

The Church has the right to observe its dogmatic beliefs. Non-Catholics who don't agree with the Church's beliefs are always free to seek employment elsewhere. None of this would even be going down if oBAMa hadn't decided to play King and mandate that everyone be given free access to contraceptives. I don't have free access to a new car every year. I don't see oBAMa doing anything for me.

Betty Davies's picture

Better check your caps key...

You seem to be inserting capital letters at random...

If you had been expecting the President to give you a new car every year, it's easy to see why you're disappointed.

However, if (like most Americans who aren't millionaires) you pay a small fortune for health insurance, I hope you'll do some more reflection on health insurance. In this great country, there is no excuse not to have universal single-payer health insurance.

An America in which millions of people can't afford health insurance, millions more have only "catastrophic" coverage, and virtually everyone is at risk of medical bankruptcy no matter how much they pay in premiums--that America is a weak country. I aim to see America and its people healthy and strong.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Capital letters at RANDOM?

Capital letters at RANDOM? What, exactly, does that mean?
If you believe I'm expecting a new car every year, it's easy to see my point did not make contact with your receptors. "In this great country, there is no excuse not to have universal single-payer health insurance". There may not be any excuses, but I'll give you one darn good reason. The country is on the verge of bankruptcy, thanks to oBAMa, and we can't afford another gimme/giveaway program. That is why oBAMaCare will fail. It is unaffordable and unsustainable.
"I aim to see America and its people healthy and strong."
I'm afraid you aim too high, Betty, but keep living the dream. You never know.

Jim Cyr's picture

Force religious beliefs

and practices on NON-Catholics ?? What, have then been "Water Boarding"? The various religions just want Big Brother out as the Constitution says.. "Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or the free exercise thereof,......"

Betty Davies's picture

Waterboarding is a Catholic practice? News to me...

I simply want the Catholic church (and other religions and believers) to refrain from trying to force their practices on workers who are NOT members of their religions.

Forcing employees to have a lesser health insurance policy, simply because the bosses have religious objections to one or more types of treastment, would go far beyond the "free exercise" of religion.

Steve  Dosh's picture

l o l Rich ? " Robert Rector

l o l Rich ?
" Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation, an expert on out-of-wedlock births . .. " Hmmm .. ... Open foot , insert mouth [ sic.]
Religion and politics make strange bewfellows ?
i use contraception . It prevents certain diseases , too
Whe†her a woman wishes to use it is entirely up to her
It is her body
Sure beats coat hanger abortions in back alleys
h t h ? /s, Steve

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

"I use contraception. It

"I use contraception. It prevents certain diseases, too" (sic)
What would a man of your stature be doing dipping his fountain pen in contaminated ink wells, or wells of suspicious origin? Just askin'.


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