Michael Gerson has written an editorial in the Washington Post, opining that the newly released proposed rule changes are an attempt to fool Catholics.
Upon reflection, it seems less like the parting of the Red Sea than a parlor trick.
As Gerson summarizes,
But the outlines of the mandate remain essentially the same, offering different levels of religious liberty to churches and ministries. An exemption from the mandate still doesn’t reach much beyond the doors of a house of worship — covering only churches, associations of churches and religious orders.
The accommodation for religious charities, colleges and hospitals is effectively unchanged from the last version. While these institutions aren’t required to pay directly for contraceptive coverage, they are forced to provide insurance that includes such coverage. It is a shell game useful only for those who want to deceive themselves.
Why is the administration doing this? What is the strategy?
The administration has chosen to promote contraceptive access in the most heavy-handed way possible, then define the tightest exemptions it can get away with.
Now it is establishing a pattern of announcing revisions that include few substantive concessions. This strategy is clearly motivated by the courts, which have pressed for clarification on implementation of the mandate. Recent changes seem narrowly tailored to better withstand judicial scrutiny — without shifting the policy itself. Cosmetic concessions also have the benefit of dividing opposition to the mandate, providing cover for those in search of fig leaves.
The new rules are not meant to serve the public, but to further ideological and political aims, and to avoid defeat in the courts.
It has been part of the American miracle to balance individual rights with institutional religious freedom — a difficult task for which the Obama administration shows little appetite. So now it falls to the courts.