President Obama is the proud father of a new federal entitlement to free birth control for every woman in America. And to dispense this new staple of 21st-century life, he wants to enlist all faith-based groups to be on the front lines. His only problem is, some of us refuse to serve.
A year after he confidently strode into the White House Briefing Room to announce a so-called accommodation for faith-based employers bristling under his ill-conceived mandate, the president pulled a do-over last Friday. His plan is in trouble, and he knows it. I worked in the White House for more than four years and know a damage-control exercise when I see one. A staggering 44 federal lawsuits are making it difficult for him to fulfill a campaign promise in a way that actually passes constitutional muster.
First, he would abandon his “take it or leave it” negotiating strategy and actually listen to the groups adversely affected by the Health and Human Services dictate. The very stakeholders who are seeking justice in federal court were as surprised as everyone else when voluminous, new proposed rules were rolled out. We have seen two Friday afternoon press announcements declare accommodation but deliver no real relief.
If the administration were sincere about finding a balance between establishing a birth control entitlement and respecting the rights of religious groups who refuse to be conscripted in the service of it, officials would sit down with critics and craft a compromise instead of only consulting the policy’s proponents to see what concessions they can grudgingly give. To date, the manner in which his administration has dialogued with faith-based groups who oppose his new policy has been nothing less than insulting. The ineptitude of the Obama Faith-Based Office has never been more apparent.
Second, he would invite Congress to the negotiating table so that a broader-based consensus could be reached. If free contraception is as widely popular as he says, why wouldn’t he? No member of Congress who considered the president’s sweeping 2010 healthcare reform legislation spent a solitary second debating whether “preventive care” should include a universal right to free abortion-inducing drugs. That determination was made by HHS a year later.
Who made those bureaucrats God? I understand the political appeal during a national election of crying “war on women” but the election is over, and few people care what Sandra Fluke, the law school student surrogate of the Obama campaign who championed free birth control, has to say. Instead, many taxpayers feel there is an equally compelling “war on the wallet” under way and want to know exactly why they have to buy birth control pills for Fluke and others who can afford to pay.
Indeed, millions of Americans who don’t have religious objections to contraception want the correct balance struck so that the right of conscience embedded in our nation’s history, laws and Constitution is upheld. There is still time for a true accommodation to be reached, and dozens of Friday afternoons left for the Obama administration to finally get this right.
The president won reelection and wields the executive power he needs to establish contraception stamps within the vast array of federal entitlements. If Congress continues to acquiesce in the face of the current assault on religious liberty and if the administration continues to defiantly provoke faith-based groups and faith-minded private employers who object to the HHS mandate, then the courts will decide.
The president’s last roll of the dice in the U.S. Supreme Court on his Affordable Care Act broke unexpectedly his way. I wouldn’t bet on that happening again. The “rhythm method” has better odds than the Obama administration’s current legal claims.
Towey is president of Ave Maria University and has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the administration’s contraception mandate. He previously served as assistant to the president of the United States and as director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives for George W. Bush.