Why the Catholic Health Association’s Contraception Reversal Doesn’t Matter

Religion reporters were atwitter (literally) late Friday after the Catholic Health Association filed its comments with the Department of Health and Human Services, reversing its previous approval of the accommodation the Obama administration crafted for religiously-affiliated employers who object to the contraception coverage mandate.

The conventional wisdom is that the reversal is bad politics for Obama. If the good nuns who run the hospitals aren’t on board, the argument goes, who is?

But the CHA’s approval or disapproval is legally irrelevant. In February, after it announced the compromise, the Obama administration circulated a statement from the group to demonstrate that it had its support, even if it didn’t have the support of the Bishops. That was all politics; constitutionally speaking, the regulation, even before the accommodation, was sound.

When it comes to the constitutionality of laws, what matters is the law, not catering to certain religious groups to gain political favor. This situation was different from when Democrats sought the CHA’s approval of the Affordable Care Act itself — that was done to secure passage of the bill in Congress. But in this case, the courts are going to be the ultimate arbiters of the coverage requirement’s constitutionality. Will the CHA’s new move have a political impact? It seems obvious that this is more about the politics between the Bishops and the nuns, rather than the politics of the mandate itself.