Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012 | 2 a.m.
I asked my wife, Myra, her opinion about this latest dust-up about contraceptives and religious freedom.
I was interested in what she believed was the right policy for women in America. After all, she is a woman. Her daughter is a woman and her granddaughter will be quite a woman one day. Who better to ask about women’s health than a woman?
Her answer was not what I was expecting, but it represented the best of what this country is about. It also was a portent, without her realizing it, of President Barack Obama’s announcement Friday morning of a responsible and, frankly, quite reasonable compromise.
Myra started with all the reasons why people should be supporting all aspects of a woman’s health because it just makes good sense, both socially and economically. Of course, a woman’s economic status should not affect her ability to get the health care available to other Americans. While she didn’t say it, it was clear, as most would agree, that it is the people at the lowest rungs of the financial ladder who need access to all forms of health care the most. Those with money can always manage!
I specifically avoided engaging my bride in the political aspects of the controversy because she has very little patience for anyone who thinks they are better able to decide what is best for her than she is. That includes the government and anyone else who would use the government to enforce their will on her and her body. For that matter, I suppose, that would include me, too!
She then pivoted to the issue raised legitimately by some that it would infringe on deeply held religious convictions. The Catholic Church, for example, is knee-deep into providing health care through a hospital system that is one of the best in the country, and the issue seemed to pit its ability to provide health care against its obligation to provide contraceptive health care to its employees, regardless of their religious affiliation or beliefs.
For Myra, it was a conflict between a strong, responsible national health policy — affordable contraception for all women — and the right to believe as we wish without government interference.
Here is what we didn’t discuss but what caused the brouhaha in the first place: Most Americans will agree, and have for a long time agreed, that it is in our country’s best interests that the female members of society — that is pretty close to half by numbers and approximately 90 percent by political clout, both at home and at the ballot box — have access to the best health care available. We actually believe the same thing for the weaker sex, too!
Most Americans also believe the First Amendment principle of the separation of church and state is sacred — even though listening to the Republican candidates for president at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week caused more than a little concern that the separation will soon be non-existent — and that we should do nothing to narrow the space that provides such separation.
Taken together, most Americans believe in the First Amendment and a woman’s right to health care.
That is where Myra came down — not for one side or the other, but with the clear understanding that these two issues were not mutually exclusive. Rather, they were capable of being reconciled in a way that shouldn’t do violence to either principle.
Her wisdom was inescapable — yes, I am mindful that Valentine’s Day is approaching — and, I would suggest, universal in its simplicity. And that ended our discussion.
What has prompted this column is President Obama’s announcement Friday morning that he had found a way to strike the right balance between the two principles. It is as if he had been listening to my wife!
More to the point, he was listening to responsible voices on each side of the argument, which allowed him to come up with a solution that works.
I realize there will be many people involved in the political wars of 2012 who will be disappointed that the president managed to do what presidents are supposed to do — find solutions to problems that move us forward — and they will continue to thump him about the head and shoulders to gain some political advantage. I understand that because this is the kind of politics the voters have become accustomed to and, frankly, have encouraged by their response to such negativity.
Far more important, though, is the result.
Women across the country will have access to the kind of health care that will enhance their lives and the lives of their loved ones, regardless of their financial circumstances. And religious organizations will be free to conduct their business without interference from government in those matters which define their faith.
The way I see it, everybody wins — except those on the fringes who would rather divide this country than help it come together.