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Dropping the pretense in the war on contraception

As far as the White House is concerned, Friday's compromise on contraception coverage effectively ends the matter.
What is Mitch McConnell's problem with contraception?
What is Mitch McConnell's problem with contraception?

As far as the White House is concerned, Friday's compromise on contraception coverage effectively ends the matter. Religiously affiliated institutions won't be required to pay for birth control, but women who work for these employers will still have access to the same preventive care as everyone else. As Tricia noted earlier, the West Wing doesn't see anything else to talk about.

Congressional Republicans strongly disagree. Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) raised quite a few eyebrows yesterday when he endorsed a controversial proposal to allow all American employers to deny women contraception coverage altogether.

"You know if we end up having to try to overcome the President's opposition by legislation, of course, I'd be happy to support it and intend to support it. It would be difficult as long as the President is rigid in his view that he gets to decide what somebody else's religion is. I assume he would veto it. But yeah, we will be voting on that in the Senate. And you can anticipate that that would happen as soon as possible."

Even McConnell couldn't believe the president wants to "decide what somebody else's religion is." It's such a strikingly dumb comment, chances are, the senator just got carried away in the moment.

But the larger concern has nothing to do with rhetoric, and everything to do with the GOP's increasingly-aggressive war on contraception. McConnell told CBS's Bob Schieffer, "The fact that the White House thinks this is about contraception is the whole problem. This is about freedom of religion."

At this point in the debate, that's just absurd.

As of Friday, Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) were pushing measures to allow all private-sector employers, including those completely unaffiliated with any religious institution, to start denying health services that businesses might find morally objectionable.

The proposals are aimed at blocking access to contraception, but as Igor Volsky noted, they're so expansive, "an insurer or an employer would be able to claim a moral or religious objection to covering HIV/AIDS screenings, Type 2 Diabetes treatments, cancer tests or anything else they deem inappropriate or the result of an 'unhealthy' or 'immoral' lifestyle. Similarly, a health plan could refuse to cover mental health care on the grounds that the plan believes that psychiatric problems should be treated with prayer."

The Obama administration's underlying goal is entirely straightforward: the law already makes preventive care free for all Americans, and officials believe access to contraception must be included as part of this coverage. If faith-based employers don't want to pay for this directly, the White House has already changed the policy to ensure they won't have to.

The Republicans' underlying goal, at least of yesterday, is equally clear: no American employer should have to cover contraception, ever.

As Jonathan Cohn explained, this is simply untenable.

The Bishops' position, which the Republicans have now adopted as their own, is that religious leaders have the right to override that decision, even though it will affect employees who have no moral or religious qualms about birth control. Writing in Newsweek, Andrew Sullivan captured the Bishops' thinking perfectly: "Catholic doctrine should, according to the bishops' spokesman, also apply to non-Catholics." [...][T]he principle seems pretty clear to me. The Bishops want a veto over public policy. And the Republicans want to give it to them.

The "it's about religious liberty" talking point effectively died on Friday. The longer the GOP keeps up this fight, the more obvious the party's war on contraception will be. Given the support contraception access enjoys with the American mainstream, it's a fight Republicans are very likely to lose.