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Catholics’ Enraged Response To Obama Birth-Control Policy Is Misplaced

From all the hysteria over the administration’s insistence that Catholic institutions provide insurance that covers birth control, you’d think it was a big change—but 28 states already have such laws on the books.

Mitt Romney has been railing again the Obama administration’s refusal to exempt Catholic-affiliated institutions like hospitals and universities from its mandate that health insurance cover contraception. “Such rules don’t belong in the America that I believe in,” he writes in a Washington Examiner op-ed. Perhaps no one told him that such rules were in place in Massachusetts the entire time he was governor, because as far as I’ve been able to tell, he never raised a word of objection then.

From the enraged response to Obama’s policy, one would think it represented some sort of radical break with the status quo. In The Daily Beast, Kirsten Powers suggests the administration is threatening to put Catholic institutions out of business. “One thing we can be sure of: the Catholic Church will shut down before it violates its faith,” she writes.

But many Catholic institutions are already operating in states that require contraceptive coverage, such as New York and California. Such laws are on the books in 28 states, and only eight of them exempt Catholic hospitals and universities. Nowhere has the Catholic Church shut down in response.

Time and again, when these laws were being considered, Catholic bishops and their sympathizers made the same sort of hysterical arguments we’re hearing today. “We will not be daunted by the abortion and contraception extremists whose aggressive agenda includes putting the Catholic Church out of the business of providing health care and social services throughout the state of New York,” Cardinal Edward M. Egan said at an Albany press conference in 2002, when New York was considering the Women’s Health and Wellness Act.

Nevertheless, the law passed—it was signed by Republican Gov. George Pataki—with exactly the same sort of exemptions we’re now seeing at the federal level. There’s a conscience clause that applies to Catholic churches, grade schools, and parishes, but not institutions that serve the broader community, such as universities and hospitals. The church sued, but New York’s State Court of Appeals ruled against it; in 2007, the Supreme Court let the ruling stand. Likewise, California’s Supreme Court upheld that state’s version of the mandate.

And yet, somehow, Catholic institutions have continued operating. Nationwide, major Catholic universities including Fordham, Georgetown, and DePaul all offer birth-control coverage. So does Dignity Health, until recently known as Catholic Healthcare West, the fifth-largest health system in the country. In Massachusetts, the six former Caritas Christi Catholic hospitals, which were recently acquired by Steward Health Care System, all complied with the state law.

Some, it is true, found ways to get around the mandate. Instead of buying insurance policies, they self-insured—essentially covering their employees’ medical bills from their own funds. The new Obama administration policy closes that loophole, though it may well open others. Speaking to Morning Joe on Tuesday, Obama adviser David Axelrod suggested that some compromise with the bishops may be in the works. “[W]e’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,” he said.

Those prerogatives are important, but they don’t trump the rights of the general public. That’s not an extreme notion—it’s one that Romney subscribed to when he signed a law forcing Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. Obama’s policy, says Sarah Lipton-Lubet, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, “really is completely constitutionally unremarkable. There is a whole host of anti-discrimination and labor laws that institutions that operate in the public sphere like religiously affiliated hospitals and universities comply with, or are supposed to comply with.”

And make no mistake: health plans that exclude services used only by women constitute a form of discrimination. That’s why in 2000, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that employers that cover prescription drugs but do not cover contraception are in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Such employers have “circumscribed the treatment options available to women, but not to men,” it said. The EEOC’s ruling made no exemptions for religiously affiliated organizations. Indeed, in 2009, responding to a lawsuit, the EEOC ruled that the Catholic college Belmont Abbey discriminated against women when it refused to cover birth control.

“When employers provide fringe benefits to their employees as part of their pay that include preventative health-care services and prescription drugs, it’s sex discrimination to reduce women’s pay by not giving them coverage for health-care needs that they have,” says Marcia Greenberger of the National Women’s Law Center.

The Obama administration, then, was acting in line with several longstanding state and federal precedents when it issued these new regulations, something that’s been totally obscured amid all the caterwauling we’ve heard in response. “Women who work at hospitals or universities or social-service agencies with religious affiliation don’t need contraceptive access any less than women who work at other sorts of hospitals and universities and social-service agencies,” says Lipton-Lubet. “The ideology of their employers doesn’t affect their health-care needs and shouldn’t affect their health-care access.”


By: Michele Goldberg, The Daily Beast, February 8, 2012

February 9, 2012 Posted by | Birth Control, Catholic Church | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mitt Romney Is Financially Invested In The Birth Control He Seeks To Restrict

Mitt Romney has attacked the Obama administration’s regulation requiring employers and insurers to provide reproductive health care services — including contraception — by arguing that the rule is undermining the religious liberties of Catholics and imposing “a secular vision on Americans who believe that they should not have their religious freedom taken away.” As ThinkProgress has reported, Romney’s newfound sensitivities contradict his record as governor of Massachusetts — where he accepted a very similar contraception equity law — and his previous public commitments to increasing public funding for birth control. In 2005, Romney even asked the Massachusetts Department of Health to issue regulations requiring all hospitals to issue emergency contraception to rape victims, without providing an exception for Catholic hospitals.

Now, an examination of Romney’s financial investments reveals that the very same GOP frontrunner who is now petitioning the White House to extend the regulation’s conscience clause and exclude more women from the benefits of birth control is himself invested in and profiting from pharmaceutical companies that produce the frequently prescribed and extremely common medication:

Romney’s Goldman Sachs 2002 Exchange Place Fund, valued at over a million dollars in 2010, brought in nearly $600,000 in gains in 2010 and is invested in:

– Watson Pharmaceuticals: manufacturer of nine forms of emergency contraception (which Romney incorrectly identifies as “abortifacients“). – Johnson & Johnson: launched the first U.S. prescription birth control product in 1931 and produces various forms of birth control. – Merck: produces various forms of birth control – Mylan: produces birth control medication and filed the first application for a generic birth control pill last year. – Pfizer: a contraception producer that recently had to recall about a million packs of birth-control pills that weren’t packaged correctly.

Romney often disclaims any responsibility for or knowledge of his own investments by claiming that they are held in a private trust. But since filing his legally-required public financial disclosure reports and certifying that the information is “true, complete, and correct” to the best of his knowledge, the trust ceased to be a “blind trust” as he knew what was in it. Romney signed such disclosure forms last August and during his unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid in August 2007.


By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, February 8, 2012

February 9, 2012 Posted by | Birth Control, Womens Rights | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are Republicans About To Commit Medicare Suicide?

It’s shaping up to be spring 2011 redux. Just under a year ago, Republicans — euphoric after a midterm election landslide, and overzealous in their interpretation of their mandate — passed a budget that called for phasing out Medicare over the coming years and replacing it with a subsidized private insurance system for newly eligible seniors.

The backlash was ugly. But Republicans seem to have forgotten how poisonous that vote really was, and remains…because they’re poised to do it again. This time they’re signaling they’ll move ahead, with a modified plan — one that, though less radical, would still fundamentally remake and roll back one of the country’s most popular and enduring safety net programs.

“We’re not backing off any of our ideas, any of our solutions,” GOP budget chairman Paul Ryan said last week in an interview with Fox.

Why on earth would Republicans put the whole party back on the line? Particularly after a year of serial brinkmanship and overreach that has dragged their popularity down to record lows?

The answers speak as much to the hubris of this GOP majority as it does to the fact that the party’s in thrall to a movement that demands unyielding commitment to a platform of reducing taxes on high-income earners and rolling back popular, though expensive, federal support programs.

That creates a dilemma: Vote against the platform and face a primary. Vote for it, and face constituent backlash.

House Republicans will now have to choose between reigniting that backlash, or admitting to constituents that they erred the first time around.

To make that choice easier, Ryan’s signaling he’ll swap out his old Medicare plan with a new one — one that he actually co-wrote with a Democratic Senator. That’s what Democrats think he’s going to do, and if they’re right, it will allow him and members of his party to claim they’ve moved significantly in the Democrats’ direction.

Here are all the details of the so-called Ryan-Wyden plan. There are two key differences between this plan and the original Ryan plan. The first is that Ryan-Wyden would preserve a Medicare-like public option as a competitor to private plans in its insurance exchange, and allow seniors to buy into it. The second is that it would leave the rate at which the program’s costs are allowed to grow exactly where it is in current law — forcing seniors to pay less out of pocket than would the original Ryan plan.

So substantively it is, indeed, a step or two left for the GOP. But here’s the key: it ultimately hands Medicare’s benefit guarantee over to a whimsical market, instead of keeping it in government hands, where it’s been for nearly 50 years. It would constitute a massive policy shift to the right. And that’s why Democrats abandoned Ron Wyden en masse the day the plan was unveiled.

House leadership and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee couldn’t be happier. They think the GOP’s walking right back into a political buzz saw, confident the public won’t be impressed by the technical modifications to the plan, or sympathetic to the fact that a single Senate Democrat endorsed it. It’s a lesson Dems learned the hard way during health care reform — all the hair splitting over specifics didn’t stop Republicans from characterizing every permutation of it as “Obamacare.” And the label stuck. Democrats are betting they can pull the same trick in reverse this year. Indeed, as you can tell from the poster below that’s already being distributed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, they liked “Ryan Plan 1” so much, they’re lining round the block for the sequel.


By: Brian Beutler, Talking Points Memo, February 7, 2012


February 9, 2012 Posted by | Seniors | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Compassionate Conserative”: Gov. Sam Brownback’s Anti-Poor Agenda

The Kansas governor appears to be waging war against low-income families in his state.

The GOP presidential primary has offered some odd debates on who cares about the “very poor” and whether there should be a “safety net” or a “trampoline” to help people get out of poverty. Meanwhile, in Kansas, it seems Governor Sam Brownback is hoping to dig a bigger hole for the poor fall into. Between his tax plans and his approaches to school funding, Brownback’s agenda overtly boosts the wealthy and makes things harder for the poor. While many liberals speculate this to be a secret goal, Brownback is hardly making a secret of his agenda.

Currently, the Kansas Legislature is examining Brownback’s plan to redesign education funding. The plan removes extra dollars for students who are more expensive to educate—those who must learn English or come from challenging backgrounds. Instead of providing funding based on the actual costs of education, Kansas would allow counties to raise property taxes and keep the revenue. That’s great for wealthy districts with high property values and seriously damaging for poor districts where the tax base is relatively small. The plan would likely create enormous disparities between school districts, leaving students in poor communities with few good options among traditional schools. Meanwhile, wealthy school districts can likely spend more and more to make their schools top-notch.

While low-income kids would attend schools getting outpaced by wealthy counterparts, their parents would get to pay more in taxes. That’s because the governor is also pushing a tax plan, approved by Reaganite Arthur Laffer, that would actually raise the total tax burden on those who make less than $25,000 a year. For the record, that’s more than 40 percent of filers in the state. As I wrote last week, the plan not only raises taxes on the poor but also cuts government programs that target low-income Kansans, compounding the hit. Meanwhile, the biggest tax cut in the plan would go to the wealthiest residents, those making more than $250,000.

But perhaps most galling is that Brownback will not object to a new decision by the state’s welfare officials that cuts off food-stamp benefits for U.S.-born children of undocumented workers. The decision leaves hundreds of American children without access to the program.

I should also mention that Brownback has long considered himself a “compassionate conservative.” With his level of compassion, who needs safety nets, or as Newt Gingrich would say, “trampolines”?


By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, February 8, 2012

February 9, 2012 Posted by | Class Warfare, Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“War On Contraception”: GOP Lawmakers Seek To Deny Coverage To Others That They Enjoy

Republican congressional leaders are entering the fray over the Obama administration’s weeks-old decision to require employer-provided health insurance to cover contraception, including for some religious organizations that don’t employ a majority of people of that faith. The decision has been a hot topic on the campaign trail in recent days, but today, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) took the House floor to slam it, calling it an “unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country” and vowed to repeal the regulation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had a similarly sharp indictmentyesterday. Watch it:

But missed in this debate is the fact Boehner and McConnell’s own health insurance plans covers contraception, something they now want to deny to others.

Since 1998, every insurer participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) — including members of Congress — has had access to comprehensive contraceptive coverage, including emergency contraception, such as the morning after pill. Republican lawmakers now want to prevent access to the coverage they enjoy to employees of religious organizations who may not be of that religion or who disagree with anti-contraception doctrine (89 percent of Catholics say contraception decision should be theirs, not the church’s).


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Think Progress, February 8, 2012

February 9, 2012 Posted by | Women's Health | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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