As everyone has no doubt seen by now, President Obama held a press conference today (2/10) to announce his wonderful "compromise" on the unjust (and illegal) HHS mandate:
Today, President Obama will announce that his Administration will implement a policy that accommodates religious liberty while protecting the health of women. Today, nearly 99 percent of all women have used contraception at some point in their lives, but more than half of all women between the ages of 18-34 struggle to afford it.
Under the new policy to be announced today, women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she works. The policy also ensures that if a woman works for a religious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide, pay for or refer for contraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to directly offer her contraceptive care free of charge.
This is a distinction without a difference. Clearly, the question of whether the conscientious objector pays directly, or indirectly by paying a third party to pay for the immoral services, is quite irrelevant to either the wedge issue of contraction (including sterilization and abortifacients), or to the deeper issue of religious liberty. In either case, the one who tries not to be complicit in moral evil is still compelled to be complicit in moral evil.
The best response I've seen is by Bishop Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa, OK:
We are grateful that the President has begun to listen to the voices raised in opposition to this intrusion on our first amendment rights, and we are encouraged that he understands the urgency of this matter. However, we are dismayed that he does not understand the root issues which are involved here.
There will be a time, there must be a time, when Americans of good will and strong conscience discuss these points in a rational and non-idealogical conversation.
• First, no one is asking why it is that the Catholic Church is opposed to
artificial birth control, direct sterilization and abortifacients. For two thousand
years, the Church has understood that all of these methods that prevent life
damage marriages and thereby weaken the fabric of society.
• Secondly, in describing artificial birth control, direct sterilization and
abortifacients as “Preventive care” it is apparent that the ideology which
underlies this governmental intrusion is that pregnancy is a disease and that
the conception of life should be prevented.
• Thirdly, the question of who ultimately pays for this immoral coverage has
remained unanswered by the President. Free coverage is never free;
someone will have to pay for this coverage in their premium.
He also notes that the religious liberty issue is not limited to church institutions, but also affects individuals, either purchasers of insurace or employers providing it, and even insurance companies themselves. Spot on, Bishop Slattery.
I think there is now another issue here, also. As we heard from Abp (Cardinal-elect) Dolan, President Obama promised him, in an interview in the White House in November, that he respected the Church's stand on the contraception issue[s], and wanted to protect religious liberty etc. etc. But as he proved in allowing the Sebelius mandate to remain unchanged in January, he lied. By making today's announcement of a change (even though the change is not one of substance), he's tacitly admitting that he lied before, and also tacitly admitting that he approved a policy that violated the First Amendment (!!). (If it did not, why would he capitulate, even only in appearance, to the rising demands on behalf of religious freedom?) And now he's trying to change the subject with a "cheap accounting gimmick."
The Anchoress has more round up of responses, many of them also very good. The Beckett Fund's response is particularly pointed. And Bishop Nickless gave a very clear and precise response for tonight's evening news.
Update (2/13): Abp. Chaput, among others, has an excellent response to Friday's "insulting and dangerous" retrenchment by the Obama administration. The USCCB offered its more definitive response very late Friday evening.
Update II (2/13): Lydia McGrew gives a clear and compelling rebuttal of that "98% of Catholic women use contraception" lie that figured so prominently, if irrelevantly, in the logic (for whatever that's worth) of the HHS mandate. (I found this linked via Tom Hoopes at CatholicVote.org.)
Update III (2/14): Pope Benedict gave his third speech to American bishops making their ad limina visit yesterday (see here, but it's not posted there yet). Msgr. Pope gives his thoughts on the address most compellingly. Thomas Peters draws the obvious conclusion that where no compromise is (repeatedly) offered, none is possible, and sets his sights firmly on the electoral defeat of Obama and his oppressive ilk. And the Anchoress shares another little example of that animus, in this otherwise unremarked rule change. Last but not least, the USCCB lists six more things everyone should know about the HHS mandate.