When Obama decided to attack Catholics (and religion, in general) by forcing a contraception, sterilization and abortion insurance mandate on private institution, a question arose: Did he not foresee the backlash, or was the goal of subjecting conservative religion to liberal feminism so great that it was worth the fight? I tend to assume the latter - Obama has proved a classless and spiteful president who has consistently demeaned the office by lashing out at private individuals and institutions who dare disagree with his ideology (e.g., the Koch brothers).
The issue is multi-dimensional and profound in relation to both political theory and practical consequence. On the former, see the Conference of Catholic Bishops' website, which declares absolute opposition to the president's violation of "conscience rights and religious liberty." According to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, "Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn't happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights."
As to the practical consequences, Ed Morrisey at Hot Air asks, "What if Catholic bishops aren't bluffing?"
Earlier this week, Francis Cardinal George of the archdiocese of Chicago sent a message to parishioners in Barack Obama's home town that imposition of the HHS mandate to fund and facilitate contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization would force the Catholic Church to close its hospitals, clinics, schools, and all other organizations that would otherwise have to comply. "Two Lents from now," Cardinal George warned, "unless something changes, the page [listing Catholic organizations] will be blank." At the time, some commenters wrote that this has been Obama's plan all along -- to force religious charities out of business to make people more dependent on government. Others, including myself, figure that Obama just thinks the bishops are bluffing, and wants to engage in a high-stakes bout of brinksmanship to force them to kneel to secular authority over doctrine.
But how high are those stakes? In my column for The Fiscal Times today, I did a little research just on Catholic hospitals and their significance in American health care. As it turns out, this bet involved nearly $100 billion in annual costs and about one-seventh of all hospital beds in the US -- and that's not all:
The Catholic Church has perhaps the most extensive private health-care delivery system in the nation. It operates 12.6 percent of hospitals in the U.S., according to the Catholic Health Association of the U.S., accounting for 15.6 percent of all admissions and 14.5 percent of all hospital expenses, a total for Catholic hospitals in 2010 of $98.6 billion. Whom do these hospitals serve? Catholic hospitals handle more than their share of Medicare (16.6 percent) and Medicaid (13.65) discharges, meaning that more than one in six seniors and disabled patients get attention from these hospitals, and more than one in every eight low-income patients as well. Almost a third (32 percent) of these hospitals are located in rural areas, where patients usually have few other options for care.
This is a case of clear principles: a vote for Barack Obama in November is a vote against religious liberty and accessible health care in America. All men of good will and sound judgement should ensure that he does not have the opportunity to erode America's sacred liberties and public services any further.