Contraception Mandate

The Birth Control Culture War—David Frum

Freedom of religion best upheld by those who also uphold the freedoms of women.

JEWEL SAMAD / AFP / Getty Images

My view, for what it's worth, is that Vice President Biden got this one right:

The American tradition gives the widest possible latitude to church-affiliated institutions, and that tradition should have been continued in the case of the birth-control mandate.

All Americans benefit from and should appreciate the good works done by organizations from the University of Notre Dame to the Salvation Army. Those works are done by religious people for religious reasons. The people doing these good works should be left alone to do their good works in the way their consciences call for.

"Accommodation" has always been the American way, and the American way it should remain.

The administration's so-called compromise—a legal fiction that it won't be Catholic institutions that are paying for birth control, but only their insurers—falls short. The guiding rule of American law should continue to be: religiously affiliated institutions, not only churches, but hospitals and universities, should be exempt from mandates that conflict with their religious teachings, except in the most extreme cases, eg, parents refusing life-saving blood transfusions for a minor child.

Overheated as the Republican rhetoric has been on this issue, they are not only right, but they are also upholding long-standing rules of the game. In this case, it is the Obama administration that is taking the radical part and altering the rules of the game.

Yet even so, it is the Obama administration that is winning the communications war. Republicans blame the media. OK, maybe. But then Republicans do things like this in the state of Virginia:

HB 462 Abortion; informed consent, shall undergo ultrasound imaging.

Abortion; informed consent. Requires that, as a component of informed consent to an abortion, to determine gestation age, every pregnant female shall undergo ultrasound imaging and be given an opportunity to view the ultrasound image of her fetus prior to the abortion. The medical professional performing the ultrasound must obtain written certification from the woman that the opportunity was offered and whether the woman availed herself of the opportunity to see the ultrasound image or hear the fetal heartbeat. A copy of the ultrasound and the written certification shall be maintained in the woman's medical records at the facility where the abortion is to be performed. This bill incorporates HB 261.

The ABC news report on the Virginia bill explains:

The ultrasound legislation would constitute an unprecedented government mandate to insert vaginal ultrasonic probes into women as part of a state-ordered effort to dissuade them from terminating pregnancies, legislative opponents noted.

The Virginia law is expected to pass the state Senate. Gov. Bob McDonnell has said he will sign it. Then off to the federal courts.

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Conservatives in Washington correctly argue that the state should allow religious institutions latitude for their conscientious beliefs free from government mandates. It does dangerously complicate the narrative if—at the same time—conservatives down the road in Richmond are enacting mandates requiring physical intrusion into women's bodies before those women are allowed to exercise their own conscientious beliefs. Freedom for some must be freedom for all, and the rights of churches are most convincingly upheld by those who also uphold the rights of women.