As I wrote yesterday, Presidential election years have a history of partisan conflict around the issue of abortions. There’s a reason for this, of course. Both parties have an incentive to get their base out to the polls. So, it should hardly come as a surprise that Barack Obama this week made an executive decision to not permit Catholic hospitals and universities to be exempt from the ObamaCare mandate that all employers are required to provide contraceptive benefits to their employees as part of the health care plan available to them. According to the law as written, the only exemption from this requirement is to churches that find contraception immoral.
Obviously, Obama could have exempted religious affiliated organizations if he wished without causing immense harm to the intent of the law. He could also have delayed implementation until after the November election. Why didn’t he, then?
He didn’t much care that he would alienate devout, pro-life Catholics with this action. I’d guess that this cluster of voters generally has not been supportive of pro-choice generally, and Barack Obama in particular, in recent elections. So he believes that this action will not cost him many votes.
Well, the President claims that he has a strongly held conviction that all health care plans have to provide birth control to women. Yeah, right. It is much more likely that he wanted a symbolic issue to give voters who are strongly pro-choice. He needed something like this since the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, has had ambiguous positions on reproduction. Thus, many of the votes in a campaign could otherwise go to the GOP without some sort of differentiation.
Polling has shown that the majority of women, including Catholic women, differ from the Church’s policy on this matter. Obama’s team has staked a lot on this attitude. What they are doing, it seems, is just playing a numbers game. If more people favor a policy than oppose it, then it is likely to be a political winner. But they are wrong in this analysis. Instead, the salience of an issue for an individual takes on importance when configuring how it will affect the vote. So, if people who oppose a policy care much more about the policy, even if they are in the minority, it is unlikely to gain the incumbent votes.
I’m not a fan of symbolic actions from either political party, nor to policies enacted merely to secure a short-term political benefit; I believe that these are generally poor public policy. What would be more useful is if politicians considered actions that benefitted all Americans, while not stomping on those of a few businesses or individuals.