By Frank Wessling
One strange element in the Obama administration decision to push that contraception insurance mandate onto Catholic social service providers is the politics of it. Why take a risk of losing Catholic support with such a controversial and unnecessary move in an election year?
A loss of only one or two percentage points among Catholic voters in a couple of big states could swing the presidential election. Why risk that?
Considering the early reaction by many vocal Catholic women, the decision to make contraception coverage mandatory and free in the insurance offered by Catholic agencies might not hurt Obama politically. He would not have the votes of conservatives anyway, and a great many of his normal allies are apparently offended more by the bishops’ forceful campaign against that mandate. They see no great wrong in what the administration is doing.
There is still a political risk for the president. A regular throb of criticism from Catholic leaders running in the background of his campaign for reelection is surely not wanted. After all, Catholic voters make up a quarter or more of the electorate, and some negative effect is almost predictable.
The guess here is that a pull-back is in the works if it hasn’t already been rolled out – probably an alternative way for contraception to be obtained without direct coverage by the Catholic agency employer, as is already done in some states. That will be a logically messy compromise, but most of us will accept it as tolerable.
Would this also be a time for Catholic leadership to consider a campaign of formation strictly within Church membership? Its goal would be a people who understand why contraception is against a fully Christian understanding of life. Few of us today can answer that question; and some don’t even accept its premise.