Archive for February, 2012


A Distinction Without a Difference

February 10, 2012

Today the Obama Administration caved in, conceding to its bitter critics (including the Conference of Catholic Bishops and most Republican politicians) that its policy requiring all non-church employers’ health insurance policies include free birth control for covered employees.  The new policy would require medical insurance companies to offer birth control coverage directly to covered employees, without employer mediation, also for free.

The new policy has been welcomed by observers of all ideological stripes, from Planned Parenthood to Sister Carol Keehan, head of the Catholic Health Association.  Even Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the policy shift “a first step in the right direction”  – definitely a walkback of his full-blown outrage of earlier in the week.

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum wasn’t as placated as the Bishops were:

“This has nothing to do with access.  This is having someone pay for it, pay for something that shouldn’t be in an insurance plan anyway because it is not, really an insurable item. This is something that is affordable, available. You don’t need insurance for these types of relatively small expenditures. This is simply someone trying to impose their values on somebody else, with the arm of the government doing so.”

It remains to be seen whether American voters – Republican and Democrat – will share Rick’s ongoing outrage over birth control.  Would he forbid insurers from covering birth control as a part of health insurance?

What will be the practical difference to women who receive their medical insurance from a tangentially Catholic organization such as a university or hospital?  None.  They will still receive free birth control coverage as part of their insurance policy.

What is the practical difference to employers?  None.  Their employees will receive free birth control coverage through employer sponsored insurance.

Who will pay the cost of free birth control coverage?  It depends on your point of view.  To the extent that employers pay the cost of medical insurance, the employer still pays.  Or one might also argue that insurance companies will pay the cost, since they are required to offer something “for free.”  But since statistically is it less expensive for insurers and employers to pay for birth control than for pregnancy, one might argue that no one pays and everyone saves money.  You decide.

Unanswered questions:

1)  Does a legal requirement to provide medical insurance for employees, through which employees are eligible to acquire birth control, still constitute an infringement of religious freedom of employers who oppose birth control on moral grounds?

2) If an employer’s wages are used by the employee to acquire birth control, does that still infringe on an employer’s religious liberty?

3)  Both Catholic and non-Catholic women use “artificial” birth control at about the same rate – something around 98%.  For whom does the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops speak?

4)  Individual Catholic Bishops answer only to the Pope.  Remember when Evangelical Protestants feared the undue influence of the Pope of Rome in American politics?  I remember the 1960 presidential election – JFK vs. Nixon – very well.  Yet today we see a President of the United States backing down in the face of pressure led by the Conference of Catholic Bishops.   When did Protestant fear of Papism in America melt away?

My thoughts:  the Republican pols who thought that this would be a great issue to use against Obama just had the rug pulled out from under them.  Besides, healthy majorities of Americans supported the OLD policy – their talking point was never going to get any traction.  Will Catholics hold the original policy against Obama?  Not many – and they are the ones who wouldn’t have voted for Obama anyway.

So maybe all this was a master stroke by a master politician – pleasing almost everyone while making his opponents look even more foolish than usual.


The Komen Fiasco – a Timeline

February 5, 2012

December 2010:

Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to George W. Bush and long-time friend of Nancy Brinker, CEO of the Susan B. Komen Foundation, personally interviews candidates for the position of Komen’s “Senior Vice President for Communications and External Relations.”  During those interviews, “Fleischer drilled prospective candidates during their interviews on how they would handle the controversy about Komen’s relationship with Planned Parenthood.”  In at least one interview, “Fleischer indicated that he had discussed the Planned Parenthood issue with Komen’s CEO, Nancy Brinker, and that she was at her wits end about how to proceed.”

April 2011:

Karen Handel is appointed to the Komen VP position.  Handel is a former Georgia Secretary of State and a former Republican candidate for Governor of Georgia, having lost a heated runoff election for the Republican nomination by about 2,500 votes.  In endorsing Handel, described her as  a “pro-life, pro-entrepreneur Secretary of State.”  Her bio at states that she is a former member of the staff of Vice President Dan and Marilyn Quayle.  One might argue that Handel’s resumé and life’s work is characterized by dedication to Republican political causes.    During her candidacy for governor, Handel “pledged to eliminate Georgia’s grants for Planned Parenthood to provide breast and cervical cancer screenings.”

February 1, 2012:

Komen informs Planned Parenthood that it will not be eligible for future Komen grants.  “Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said the cutoff results from the charity’s newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. According to Komen, this applies to Planned Parenthood because it’s the focus of an inquiry launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., seeking to determine whether public money was improperly spent on abortions.”

Komen shows no similar reluctance over continuing to accept money from Bank of America as “corporate partner.”  (Isn’t B of A under investigation for something?  Yeah – I think so.)

Nor has Komen indicated any intent to end grants to Penn State (under investigation for its football child abuse scandal).  Or grants to Harvard as a result of investigations there into 1) alleged admissions discrimination against Asian-Americans and 2) alleged mistreatment of primates used in Harvard medical experiments.

The new Komen policy also would deny any funding for cancer research that uses embryonic stem cells. The statement said that Komen will only fund stem cell research “derived without creating a human embryo or destroying a human life.” This is a more restrictive policy than the one instituted by the Bush Administration and later modified by the Obama administration. (The statement has since been “disappeared” from the Komen website.)

February 2, 2012:

Komen changes its story about the motivation for the policy change.  It tells the Washington Post that “First and foremost, it doesn’t really have anything to do with (the investigation).”  The new story:  “We have decided not to fund, whereever possible, pass-through grants. We were giving them money, they were sending women out for mammograms. What we would like to have are clinics where we can directly fund mammograms.”

February 3, 2012:

Komen backs down – sort of.  Koman CEO Nancy Brinker issues a statement that includes the following:

“We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.

“Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.”

(Is this a tacit admission that the ongoing House investigation of Planned Parenthood headed by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) is “political”?)

Also on February 3, CEO Brinker appeared on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” where she continued to waffle and double-talk about the real intent of their “new” policies.  She said something about doing away with pass-through grants and education grants to Planned Parenthood, although these kinds of grants make up a majority of their funding to other grantees.

Nothing political about any of this, is there?  Shouldn’t everyone just move along?

No, it isn’t going to be that easy for Komen.  They have spent 30 years building a very successful brand, and they destroyed it in a matter of days.  Pro-choice donors (and many participants in their annual and well-publicized “Race For the Cure©”) will never trust Komen again.  If inclined to donate to prevention and cure of breast cancer, they will donate to other charities – perhaps even to Planned Parenthood, where donations are flooding in designated for breast cancer screening.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, there are millions of pro-life people who didn’t know last week that Komen sends money to every right-winger’s favorite bogyman, Planned Parenthood.  Today – they know.  And they’re not happy about it.  Nor about Koman’s ridiculous cave-in to the backlash.

And what about corporate sponsors?  Koman used to be the perfect place for a megacorporation to send the money in its feel-good public relations budget.  Who could possibly get anything but warm fuzzies from supporting an organization fighting breast cancer?  But today, Koman is radioactive.  Watch Koman’s corporate sponsorships melt away like a snowman in April.

One interesting point:  in all this furor, where is the aforementioned Karen Handel, Komen’s “Senior Vice President for Communications and External Relations”?   She’s invisible!  In hiding or something.

After this “communications and external relations” fiasco, I expect Ms. Handel to be leaving Komen after a decent interval.  There won’t be a public firing – just a new position where she will be “pursuing other opportunities.”  Of course her moving on will have nothing to do with the Planned Parenthood kerfuffle.  Nothing at all.

I wonder if the Quayles are hiring.

Update – 2/7/2012 10:00 AM

Karen Handel has resigned from her position at Komen.  Her resignation letter is here.

That didn’t take as long as I expected.  I won’t worry about her future employment.  Any number of “pro-life” organizations will be happy to snap her up.  Her past membership in the Log Cabin Republicans shouldn’t be an obstacle at all.


Tin ear?

February 3, 2012



Sen. Scott Brown’s daughter, Ayla Brown, likes to use her musical talent to help boost her father’s reelection bid, but the former “America Idol” contestant and her band’s services aren’t free — the Brown campaign has spent $9,500 for the senator’s daughter to perform at three campaign events, records show.

Dang – the TV commercials practically write themselves:

“Contribute to the Scott Brown campaign – and help his daughter get her start in show business.”