Score One for Issa

Today the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, overrode a decision by the Food and Drug Administration to make Plan B available to women of all ages without a prescription.

Washington Post health reporter Rob Stein described the “surprising decision” as “a stunning blow to some doctors, health advocates, family-planning activists, members of Congress and others to help women prevent unwanted pregnancies.”

Perhaps not surprising—but still stunning—for anyone who has followed Obama’s war on religion efforts by religious right activists to turn any decision by the Obama administration that promotes reproductive health into a claim of infringement of religious liberty.

The religious right, and in particular the anti-choice movement, has long portrayed Sebelius as a naughty pro-choice Catholic. Every HHS move, most recently the decision not to renew a contract with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to aid victims of human trafficking because they would not refer victims of sexual assault, some as young as ten or 12 years old, for reproductive health services, including contraception and abortion. Just last week House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa staged a show trial designed to create the impression that HHS was on a crusade to deprive Catholics of their religious freedom by not renewing the contract.

In the meantime, the Obama administration ruminates over whether to grant the Bishops a broader exemption, beyond churches, from the requirement that employers provide insurance that covers contraceptives without a co-pay. That, too, has been portrayed by the Bishops as a possible infringement on their religious liberty, even though many of the Catholic institutions they claim need the exemptions, like hospitals and universities, already provide insurance with contraceptive coverage.

The religious right isn’t going to be satisfied with one decision, or a quid pro quo, or a tit for tat on reproductive health initiatives that they claim infringe on their ability to practice their religion. They’re playing a broad, long-term game on the religious freedom issue. Satisfying them with one decision (one that puts needed medical care out of reach for many women) isn’t going to make them end their claims of persecution.

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