E. J. Dionne, a liberal columnist for The Washington Post, suggested in a Monday blog post that Catholic leaders who are opposing the Obama administration's birth control mandate could be doing so to help Republicans in the November elections.
Dionne was responding to the Monday lawsuits from 43 Catholic agencies. They sued the Obama administration over the requirement to provide coverage for contraception, sterilization and some abortifacient drugs in their health plans. These agencies did not qualify for the religious exemption because the exemption defines religious groups as only those that primarily hire and serve coreligionists, and for which religious worship or instruction is not their primary function.
The U.S. Catholic Church will also focus on religious freedom issues for an event called "Fortnight for Freedom," to be held for two weeks this summer.
Responding to the news of the lawsuits, Dionne wrote that he could not understand the timing of the suits. President Obama has backed down from his original proposal, offered a compromise and shown a willingness to negotiate, Dionne noted.
"Many bishops seem to want this fight," Dionne wrote.
In February, Obama offered to change his original proposal. Religious organizations who object to the mandate would not have to provide coverage, but insurance companies must provide it to any of their employees who want it without any additional co-pay or premium increase. Negotiations have also continued between the White House and religious organizations that have objections.
"There is certainly a case to pushing the administration to rewrite the definition of religious organizations under the health care regulations, but no reason to treat President Obama as an enemy of religious freedom," Dionne wrote. "The bishops' 'Fortnight for Freedom' campaign is looking more and more like a direct intervention in this fall's elections."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has said that Obama's proposed change does not go far enough. They worry that the insurance companies would spread the cost of the birth control services through higher premiums on everyone, which would mean they are still paying for the services. Also, the bishops say that the administration has not shown a willingness to change the definition of what is a religious organization under the exemption.
The narrow exemption is an aspect of the birth control mandate that Catholic leaders find particularly offensive. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, made this point Tuesday in an interview on "CBS This Morning."
"I worry that members of [Obama's] administration might not particularly understand our horror at the restricted nature of the exemption that they're giving us," Dolan said.
In a Monday interview with The Christian Post, Sister Mary Ann Walsh said that the negotiations with the White House have not been promising.
Father John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame, one of the institutions that filed suit, made a similar point this week.
"Although I do not question the good intentions and sincerity of all involved in these discussions, progress has not been encouraging and an announcement seeking comments on how to structure any accommodation ... provides little in the way of a specific, substantive proposal or a definite timeline for resolution," Jenkins said in a statement.
Jenkins also explained that they decided to sue now because the process will last months and they need to plan for what will happen with future health plans.
Regarding the claim that Catholic leaders want to help Republicans get elected, Walsh noted that Catholic leaders have recently opposed Republicans on budget cuts to programs for the poor.
In addition to criticizing Republicans on federal budget priorities, the USCCB has taken liberal positions on nuclear weapons, the death penalty, immigration, landmines, and the Cuba embargo in just the last two months, an analysis of USCCB press releases reveals.