CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The U.S. Institute of Medicine recommended that all American health insurance plans -- even those of religious organizations -- be required to provide birth control to women at no charge.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius decided that churches themselves will be exempt from this step, but church-owned schools, universities, hospitals, orphanages and the like must comply. She gave them a year and a half to adapt.
Catholic bishops immediately protested that their freedom of religion was being trampled. Republicans in Congress -- and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a Catholic -- denounced the rule.
Manchin wrote to President Obama to attack the "direct affront to religious freedoms." He also joined a Republican in drafting a "Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012" that would void the White House policy.
It has become a major issue in the GOP presidential race. Front-runner Mitt Romney declared: "This kind of assault on religion will end if I'm president of the United States." Rick Santorum, another Catholic, agreed.
Newt Gingrich, also Catholic, scorned "the Obama administration's attack on the Catholic Church" -- but Gingrich added: "The fact is, Gov. Romney insisted that Catholic hospitals give out abortion pills, against their religious beliefs, when he was governor" [of Massachusetts].
Amid this huffing and puffing, a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that Catholic women, like most American women, want birth control coverage. The PRRI report said:
"Roughly six in 10 Catholics (58 percent) believe that employers should be required to provide their employees with health-care plans that cover contraception. . . . Younger Americans are much more supportive of the requirement. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Millennials agree . . . . Women are significantly more likely than men to agree. . . ."
Everyone knows that most American Catholics ignore their church's claim that artificial birth control is a mortal sin. Also, the huge public backlash after the Komen Foundation shut off funding for Planned Parenthood birth-control clinics showed how strongly millions of American women feel about this topic.
Speaking on network television, Obama's political chief, David Axelrod, said:
"The bottom line is, this was a decision made with the interest of the health of millions around the country in mind . . . . There are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of women who work in these universities who are not Catholic. The question is whether they're going . . . to have the same access to basic preventive care."
Here's our thought: Maybe politicians and bishops should stay out of it, and let female employees decide whether they want birth-control coverage. If they had a chance to vote, we predict it would pass overwhelmingly.