Obama administration should re-think contraception mandate

If the Susan G. Komen foundation board can reverse its tone-deaf decision to pull grant funding from Planned Parenthood, then the Obama administration can say “oops, we goofed” and rethink its decision mandating religious organizations include contraception in their employee insurance plans.

I think health insurance plans — public and private — should cover contraception. They didn’t “back in my day.” I am uneasy with this government vs. religion mandate.

You wanted “the pill,” you scrimped on the grocery money to buy it. Ditto with surgeries, though there was that oddity in which vasectomies were covered, but not tubal ligation. (Always, always, the guys ….) These days, most plans pick up the tab, minus, of course, the obligatory co-pays and deductibles.

I think we walk a First Amendment tightrope, though, when the government tells religious organizations historically and theologically opposed to contraception that they have to include contraception (what’s next? Abortion?) in their insurance plans.

So, when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius rolled out only a very narrow exception — Catholic organizations that employ mostly Catholics can skip the contraception mandate — the battle was engaged. Because, that teensy exception meant Catholic universities, for instance, had to provide contraception in their insurance plans.

No one is mandating employees avail themselves of contraception, simply that it be included for those who choose to use. Understandably, the Catholic Church is on the pulpit against the mandate and reactions nationally have been — perhaps — surprising, as the mainstream media does two things: disagrees with the mandate or calls for a “re-think.”

The Kaiser Foundation is collating information and reactions at its website.

I started this post counting myself as a “disagree with the mandate,” but I’m going to conclude it as a “re-think” that includes far broader access to exemptions.

I find the mandate distasteful because it is heavy-handed. And, yet I can’t bring myself to say do away with it. Because, where does the line get drawn? Exemptions for any Catholic organization — including the ones that get state and federal funding? Exemptions for any Catholic hospital?

Although religious organizations may discriminate in favor of hiring those of their own faith, these days, doing so isn’t going to fill all those jobs on school and college campuses or in health care. So, church-affiliated businesses reach into wider workforce and customer bases and as they do, the faith-based employee and customer pool no longer shares similar religious values.

The Obama administration narrowly defined the exemptions to make it easier to implement the mandate nationwide. That makes sense; it reduces the “if this, then this” slippery slope of who qualifies for which sliver of what slice of which exception. Angels dancing on pinheads would be simple in contrast.

But, in drawing such a fine line distinction, the administration cut it too close. Time to say “oops, we goofed” and more broadly define those exemptions.

Cleaned out the fridge: No more Komen pink ribbon yogurt

Update at 11 a.m.: Reuters reports Komen has reversed its decision to pull Planned Parenthood funding.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation can give its money to whomever it wants. No problem with that. I can, too. No more pink ribbons for me. And, while I’m at it, I think I’ll avoid purchasing anything with the Komen pink labels. Money talks. Money walks. The American way.

This week, the Associated Press reporter David Crary broke the story that the Komen foundation had stopped funding Planned Parenthood. Komen said it did so because Planned Parenthood was under investigation, which it is. Under investigation by severalĀ  anti-abortion U.S. Congressmen who are determined to do in Planned Parenthood.

Not surprisingly, the decision called out the abortion hardliners. On one side, the so-called pro-lifers; on the other, the so-called pro-choicers. But, there were other responses, more measured and more on-point. Like that of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who offered up $250,000 in matching money for those contributing to Planned Parenthood. For the Big Apple mayor, this is about equity in access to women’s health care.

I’m with the mayor. So, no more Yoplait with its cute pink and silver tops in my refrigerator. I’ll defend Komen’s right to give its money — political or otherwise — as its board sees fit. I don’t however, have to give mine to Komen.

So, I’ll write a check to Planned Parenthood. And, I’ll write another to the American Cancer Society. I won’t sign up for Komen breast cancer events, golf outings, bike rides or group walks.

I can, however, sign up for Rockford Woman Magazine’s Victory Lap Brunch and the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. Those two Rock River Valley events aren’t associated with the Komen foundation.

Komen says this was neither a pro-life or political call. That it was all about its policy on not funding organizations being investigated. There are investigations and there are investigations. Surely the Komen folks are smart enough to know that Congressional probe is political theater.

I’ve paid scant attention to Planned Parenthood since the days back in the 1970s when, as a novice reporter, I used to cover them. Komen did Planned Parenthood a huge favor. By pulling its funding, Komen tapped a lot of folks like me on the shoulder and said: Hey, if you don’t pay attention, there’s not going to be a Planned Parenthood.

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