Running a huge risk with Catholics

The political tin ear President Obama displayed in siding with the women in his administration on new healthcare regulations requiring contraception coverage for employees of church-affiliated institutions is remarkable. And though it is early in the campaign and Obama will eat crow and retreat on the issue, he won't be able to cool the heat the controversy sparked — Obama will hear about this mistake from now until Election Day. Catholics and Republicans will see to it.

The administration's defense of the new regulations, issued quietly and without adequate explanation by the Health and Human Services Department, is not a defense of the mandate the regulations issued. The administration argues that the regulations provide an additional one year for compliance, as if phasing in rules the Catholic Church objects to on religious grounds would somehow become more acceptable a year from now. Churches were exempted from providing contraception in healthcare coverage, but affiliated colleges, charities and hospitals were not. Of the 28 states that issued the same requirements, eight states didn't exempt churches. Doesn't matter much — the risk Team Obama took in what will surely be a close election was foolish — they clearly could have broadened the exemption, but chose not to.

Women’s groups are thrilled that Obama sided with them over warnings from Joe Biden, the nation's first Catholic vice president, and former Chief of Staff Bill Daley. But consider the prospect of offending a) any Catholics, b) swing voters worried about the overreach of government and/or c) Catholics who may vote for Democrats and use birth control against the teachings of their church but don't like their bishops being told what to do — is any of this worth the political risk?


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