The culture wars came roaring back to life this week as three events once again sharply divided the country. Cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s decision, since reversed, to defund Planned Parenthood is still making folks on both sides angry. A federal a]ppeals court declared California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional, which banned gay marriage, and a late January ruling by the Obama Administration mandating institutions such as Catholic hospitals and universities provide birth control services as part of employee health benefits became a pitched battle over religious freedom and women’s reproductive rights. The Catholic Church is outraged, and Republicans have launched a full-out attack, with Cong. John Boehner saying that it cannot, and will not, stand.
Eric Baxter is the senior counsel for the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, which has mounted a legal challenge to the contraceptive mandate; and Bill Press is a Catholic, a progressive commentator and a former seminarian for ten years joined Roland Martin on Washington Watch to discuss these topics and more.
MR. MARTIN: The culture wars came roaring back to life this week as three events once again sharply divided the country. Cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s decision, since reversed, to defund Planned Parenthood is still making folks on both sides angry. A federal appeals court declared California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional, which banned gay marriage, and a late January ruling by the Obama Administration mandating institutions such as Catholic hospitals and universities provide birth control services as part of employee health benefits became a pitched battle over religious freedom and women’s reproductive rights. The Catholic Church is outraged, and Republicans have launched a full-out attack, with Cong. John Boehner saying that it cannot, and will not, stand.
Now, we will get to the important political implications of these fights with our roundtable, but first, let’s tackle the moral and legal issues. Eric Baxter is the senior counsel for the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, which has mounted a legal challenge to the contraceptive mandate; and Bill Press is a Catholic, a progressive commentator and a former seminarian for ten years.
Well, gentlemen, welcome to “Washington Watch.”
MR. BILL PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MARTIN: The decision comes down on Friday – this compromise with – with the White House, with Catholic universities and hospitals, stating that they will not have to provide contraception, but the insurance company that covers their health plans will still have to provide it. What do you make of this compromise, and what do you make of this fallout? Is it really a political battle?
MR. ERIC BAXTER: It’s a great question, and I think it’s significant to know that this is the third time the Administration has tried to get a rule, and it’s still too early to see whether they got it right. From what we understand from what the Administration said on Friday, the plan is now to, instead of having religious organizations provide these benefits, that the insurance companies will provide them directly. How that will work, and how – how the cost will not eventually be passed on to the employers anyway is something that we don’t know how that will play out, but there’re also a number of other problems. A lot of religious organizations are self-insured, so there’s not a – no- — not a, you know, third-party insurer for them to go to, to provide this coverage. There’re also religious-affiliated insurance companies who may object to this on religious grounds. And there’s still the question of how you define who qualifies for this exemption. In addition to religions and religious organizations, there are individuals and small business owners who have religious objections as well, and it’s not clear that the Administration is prepared to exempt those other religious believers.
MR. MARTIN: Bill, go ahead.
MR. PRESS: Well, let me just stay first of all I think this whole thing has been totally miscast – this whole argument. I don’t think it has anything to do with religious liberty. I think it’s about women’s health. Look, it does not force Catholic women to use contraception. It does not forth – force Catholic hospitals or universities to provide contraception. It just says that every woman in America ought to have access to birth control, which I thi- — I find it hard to disagree with.
And my advice to the Catholic Church as a former seminarian would be this. Since 1968, you’ve been trying to make a sale. You’ve been trying to say that birth control is wrong; it’s immoral, and it should be banned. Well, guess what? Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women who are sexually active admit that at some time they’ve used birth control, so I think they’ve failed to make the sale for a long time, and Pres. Obama should not be forced to make the sale for them.
MR. MARTIN: I – I wr- — I wrote a column several years ago called “When the Bible and the Constitution Collide,” and in that piece, what I said was, “Look, when you’re operating on your own, you don’t necessarily have to abide by legal mandates, because your faith can drive the conversation. But all of a sudden, when you are employing people who are not of your faith, when you are accepting federal funds as well, the game changes. The conversation changes.”
And so speak to that whole issue, because if I simply worked at a Catholic hospital, or worked at a Catholic university, but I’m not of the faith, why should the Church’s faith principles govern me, when that’s not my faith?
MR. BAXTER: I – [crosstalk] –
MR. MARTIN: I’m only here for a job.
MR. BAXTER: — sure, that – and that really turns a couple of issues on their head. The first is this does not apply just to people who’re accepting government money; it applies to all employers across the country, whether they take federal money or not. The second issue is this idea of coercion, that somehow by re- — not paying for someone else to get contraceptives, you’re forcing them not to get something that they deserve. I mean we don’t force employers to provide dental coverage, or provide for LASIK surgery. We’re not forcing people who want those things not to have them. And so the issue here is not really depriving access. Nobody is asking, you know, to sh- — cut off access. The government actually already spends hundreds of millions of dollars to make contraceptives available through public health centers, through hospitals that – through public hospitals that service especially the poor. Nine out of ten employers already provide contraceptive coverage, so it’s really not an issue of coercion.
MR. MARTIN: Bill, you’re –
MR. PRESS: [Crosstalk] –
MR. MARTIN: — shaking your head.
MR. PRESS: — no. I’m just – we – it – it is denying access. It’s saying that these people, if they happen to work – and as you point out, Roland, s- — surprise, surprise. Not everybody who works at Catholic University is a Catholic. Not everybody who works at Georgetown is a Catholic. What this says is, if you happen to work in one of these institutions, or universities, or hospitals, you will not have access to contraception. And that, I think, is fundamentally wrong.
And again, it’s a women’s health issue. I mean 58 percent of women who use birth control do so not just to prevent a pregnancy, but to help with other things, like protection against ovarian cancer and others. So, I – I think – this does not – the
Ch- — Catholic Church can continue its same teaching on sexuality. Bishops can continue to believe what they believe, and those 2 percent of Catholics who agree with them can continue to agree with them.
MR. MARTIN: When you look at the polling data, 58, nearly 60 percent of Catholics been – who were polled agree with providing contraception.
MR. BAXTER: The – first of all, the First Amendment was created essentially to guarantee the rights of minorities, so just because a view is not popular doesn’t mean that it’s not entitled to First Amendment protection. People can leave the Church, if they don’t like the Church. Just because people have used contraceptive[s], for example, doesn’t mean that they disagree with the teaching of the Church, or that they don’t support the Church and continue to promulgate those teachings.
MR. MARTIN: Right. Bill –
MR. PRESS: [Crosstalk]- —
MR. MARTIN: — final –
MR. PRESS: — I’ve –
MR. MARTIN: — comment.
MR. PRESS: — just got to say the Church can still teach what it wants to teach. It’s just that women will be protected – all women – protected equally. God bless America!
MR. MARTIN: Gentlemen, I certainly appreciate it. We’re out of time. But one thing, of course, that we’ll be looking for is that when it comes to a compromise, I’m quite sure neither side will be happy with what has taken place.
MR. MARTIN: Thanks a bunch. I appreciate it.
MR. PRESS: Amen.
MR. BAXTER: Thank you.
MR. PRESS: [Chuckles.]