So much for postpartisan. A decision to require that health plans cover birth control has sparked a tea-partylike uprising, particularly with the Catholic Church.

Share story

About the last thing I would have guessed we’d be doing during the Obama presidency is having a national debate about birth control.

So much for post-partisan. Or even postmillennial. We’re barely post-“Mad Men.”

The decision to require health plans to cover birth control — including at many church-affiliated institutions such as colleges and hospitals — has sparked a tea-partylike uprising, particularly with the Catholic Church.

“Never before has federal law forced citizens to purchase what violates their deeply held beliefs and ethical convictions,” says a statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, read at many a Mass last weekend.

“It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by this radical secularism.”

Predictably the various GOP presidential candidates joined in, competing to see who could denounce birth control the strongest. A headline Tuesday at ABC News read: “Santorum Ties Romney to Contraception Services.”

As if that equates, plainly, to “satanic cult.”

Question: Is contraception not insanely popular? I’m not talking about abortion — I get why America is torn about that. But birth control?

I’m just checking, because I’ve been watching “Mad Men” reruns lately at night. So sometimes during the day, scanning the political news, I get confused and think it might actually still be 1962.

In the churches’ defense, I can see how they might feel put upon to be told what to do.

It’s the same reaction many people had to the idea that, under health reform, you’ll be forced to get health insurance. About 85 percent of us already have it, but still it seems Big Brotherish for the government to order us to get it.

But crucially, this wouldn’t force anybody to use birth control. And it is 2012 (I think). There’s scarcely anyone left in this country who doesn’t already use birth control, or at least support its use.

The latest surveys found that 98 percent of American Catholic women had used it. That’s as unanimous as you can get for any activity outside of breathing air or drinking water.

Around here, some of the big Catholic institutions have provided birth-control coverage to their employees for years.

Seattle University, for example, has health plans that cover most every contraceptive the church has ever banned — from the pill to IUDs to sterilization.

The National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper that covers the Church, suggested that’s maybe why the bishops are making so much noise.

“It is abundantly clear, at least in the United States, that Catholics themselves do not feel conscience-bound by the church’s teaching prohibiting the use of contraceptives.

“Is it, then, properly the government’s obligation to enforce a teaching for a religious group when its own leaders have failed to persuade the group of its importance?”

I’m certain the Catholic bishops must know that this state has had an almost identical law — requiring birth control in most health plans that include prescription drugs — since 2002. As do 27 other states.

The churches can opt out of our law if they wish (as they can the national mandate). But church-affiliated agencies serving the broader public, such as colleges or hospitals, can’t.

So none of this is even new. Yet somehow around here we’ve managed to have our religion and our birth control, too. Quietly.

Maybe Obama’s mistake wasn’t telling Catholics to do something they can’t do. It was calling attention to the fact that they already are.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.