"It's not about contraception," thundered GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum. "It's about economic liberty. It's about freedom of speech. It's about freedom of religion. It's about government control of your lives. And it's got to stop!"
He was talking, of course, about the Obama administration's recent decisions first to force large religious employers to pay for birth control and "preventive services" (including sterilization and abortifacient drugs), and its subsequent decision to demand that the relevant insurance companies provide it for "free" instead.
White House rightly refuses to call it a compromise -- is a farce. If you're paying for health insurance -- or if you self-insure, as many institutions do -- shifting responsibilities to the insurance companies doesn't shift the costs, just the paperwork. A Catholic hospital would still pay for the services; there just wouldn't be a line item for it in the monthly insurance bill.
That's not accommodation; that's laundering.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius claims that the move will save money -- an ounce of prevention saves a pound of "cure" -- so religious institutions will incur no additional costs. If that's true, why haven't those greedy insurance companies been doing it all along?
If anything, President Obama has made the situation worse. The White House fact sheet seems to offer no exemption at all for religious institutions -- or for anyone else: "Under the new policy ... women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she [sic] works." That sounds like a complete win for the "Get Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries" crowd to me.
Of course, if religious institutions don't want to violate their consciences, they can simply stop offering health insurance altogether (providing yet another example of how Obama misled voters when he promised that the Affordable Care Act wouldn't cause anyone to lose their current coverage). That would at least allow religious organizations to uphold their principles. The result, however, would be to force taxpayers to subsidize practices many find morally abhorrent. In other words, Obama's solution is to make paying taxes a moral dilemma for many pro-lifers.
I think Santorum's argument is entirely right: This is about freedom, full stop. When we empower bureaucrats and politicians to make such huge personal decisions for us, it becomes impossible to avoid trampling on liberty. The Roman Catholic Church was simply the first in the leviathan's path.
If you look at the genetic and neuroscience revolutions waiting just offstage, the future holds enormous promise for personalized health care, including individualized genetic therapies. And yet the government is marching faster and faster toward wholesale approaches that prioritize the health of the system over the health of patients. It is impossible to imagine the myriad arbitrary abuses and petty tyrannies that could result.
It's amazing that liberals and libertarians can see eye to eye on ending federal bullying on the sale of raw milk, but liberals see no threats from a federal takeover of health care and the transformation of insurers into de facto branches of the government.
The freedom argument is old hat now. "Obamacare" supporters shrug off horror stories from Canada and Britain about concerns such as waiting periods and denied services -- and hypothetical scenarios of "death panels."
Well, here's something to ponder: If Rick Santorum's warning doesn't scare you, maybe Rick Santorum should? Personally, I think his detractors are determined to turn him into right-wing caricature (a cause he has aided more than once). He's been prodded about gay marriage, contraception, radical feminists and his religious faith in the hopes that he will say something embarrassingly juicy for the MSNBC crowd.
But let's imagine the caricature is fair and he really is the boogeyman Rachel Maddow and Co. say he is. Worse, all his talk about "freedom" is just code for the right-wing version of progressive social engineering, i.e., he wants to turn women into breeders a la "The Handmaid's Tale."
Is that who you want in charge of your health care? If not him, what about some other conservative president down the road?
It's really this simple: A government empowered to steamroll the people with the rosaries has the same power to trample the citizens with the ovaries. If you're afraid of Rick Santorum, you should be afraid of Obamacare.
(Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of the forthcoming book "The Tyranny of ClichÃ©s." You can write to him in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at JonahsColumn@aol.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.)