[Note: I am not approving any more comments premised on the belief that the HHS regulation at issue would only apply to religious employers who take government money. This is not true. This is factually incorrect. The HHS rule would apply across the board, to every employer lacking an exemption.]

Now, here’s a telling piece from Bloomberg, on how the president arrived at his decision to stick it to the Catholic Church:

President Barack Obama ended months of internal White House debate by siding with a group of mostly female advisers who urged him not to limit a health-care law mandate to provide contraceptives, even at the risk of alienating Catholic voters in November, people familiar with the discussions said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic and a two-term governor of Kansas, was joined by several female Obama advisers in urging against a broad exemption for religious organizations. To do so would leave too many women without coverage and sap the enthusiasm for Obama among women’s rights advocates, they said, according to the people, who spoke about the deliberations on condition of anonymity.

Vice President Joe Biden and then-White House chief of staff Bill Daley, also Catholics, warned that the mandate would be seen as a government intrusion on religious institutions. Even moderate Catholic voters in battleground states might be alienated, they warned, according to the people familiar with the discussions.

Fascinating. So Biden and Daley warned him of the potential backlash, but he chose to listen to the feminists in his inner circle. This tells you the man’s priorities. Even a principle as important as religious liberty did not trump feminist priorities in his mind. And now he finds himself being waylaid by prominent liberal Catholics, and having handed the eventual Republican nominee a powerful, energizing culture war issue to use against him this fall. Pennsylvania Democratic US Sen. Bob Casey, a liberal Catholic, has publicly called on Obama to stand down on this issue. Pennsylvania is a battleground state this fall, by the way.

If the legality of contraception were at issue, I not only could see the rationale and the justice in the feminists’ position, I would agree with them. But this does not involve the legality of contraception. This involves a government mandate that religious employers (and everybody else) provide access to it, even though it deeply violates the teachings of that religion. Protestant churches, which generally have no problem with contraception, have been put on notice by this that if they don’t stand with the Roman Catholic church on this issue, they will have given significant ground on religious liberty — and it will likely be used to attack them soon. David Brooks has a commonsense view on this controversy:

The truth is that institutions with a strong sense of mission often attract diverse groups of people who want to attend or work there. Those schools and hospitals and charities are strong precisely because of their distinct mission and in the real world everybody involved tries to preserve that mission while respecting the diversity of those who aren’t members of that group. These accommodations are often messy, but they are worth making. We all make accommodations. It happens every day in a pluralistic society.

He’s saying: look, you may think the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception is loony, but the Church takes it very seriously — and the Church does a lot of good in this society. It makes sense to compromise with them on this issue. It’s not going to kill anybody to give them an exemption on this HHS rule. 

I could be wrong, but I find it hard to believe that any women who weren’t already ardent feminists — and therefore likely to be strongly pro-Obama anyway — would have held it against Obama to yield on this issue by granting a conscience exemption to the Catholic Church. Doesn’t Obama understand that there are plenty of women in this country who value religious liberty? If the only women you surround yourself with are Barbara Boxer-Kathleen Sebelius types, maybe you don’t understand that. As Michael Sean Winters and other liberal Catholics have pointed out, health-care reform of the sort Obama pushed for has been a huge priority for liberal Catholics, and indeed for many of the Catholic bishops. My sense is that most liberals and Democratic voters — Catholic or not — would not have batted an eye, or much of one, at a conscience exemption over birth control. Why should they have? Contraception remains affordable and widely available. To have preserved the status quo would have imposed a relatively trivial cost on women who worked for employers that refused, on conscience grounds, to fund contraception — a cost that could easily have been picked up by the billion-dollar philanthropy Planned Parenthood, if it wanted to. And it would have refrained from imposing a catastrophic moral cost on the Catholic Church. With that in mind, it’s hard to see that this pointless, stupid controversy was about anything more than feminists wanting to stick it, and stick it hard, to the Church — and a president who, despite previous rhetoric to the contrary about how much he respected religion, was happy to go along with them.

This debacle has forced me to rethink my “pox on all their houses” political position. I have no love for Obama and his administration, though I don’t hate them either. I have no love for any of the likely GOP nominees, or the least bit of enthusiasm for the prospect of a Republican restoration in the White House. I am just that alienated from mainstream American politics. But the fact that Obama was so eager to placate the priorities of the cultural left on this relatively small issue (for him, but huge for the Catholic Church) tells me how things are likely to go on the matter of religious liberty in a second Obama term, as legal battles over same-sex marriage heat up. This was a warning shot from Obama and the cultural left. Well, it woke me up.

UPDATE: “Bonhoeffer” author Eric Metaxas on government overreach and the slippery slope: