If Sebelius’s justification was thin, it’s probably because her decision was nakedly political. The administration is already under fire from the Catholic Church over the mandate that health insurance fully cover birth control. Further, conservatives have been apoplectic about the Department of Health and Human Services’ refusal to renew an anti-sex-trafficking grant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a decision made because the conference won’t refer clients to reproductive health care. As Sarah Posner pointed out in Religion Dispatches, just last week Rep. Darrell Issa held a hearing to investigate whether Health and Human Services is biased against Catholics. It seems obvious that someone is trying to placate the administration’s religious critics.
What’s confusing, though, is why the White House thinks it’s a smart strategy to try and appease its foes while infuriating its friends. After all, the administration was just starting to rekindle liberal love with the president’s fiercely populist speech in Kansas, and with Hillary Clinton’s historic declaration that the oppression of gays and lesbians worldwide is “one of the remaining human-rights challenges of our time.” Now feminists, a crucial constituency, feel betrayed and furious. “I am trying to understand the political calculus here,” says Arons. “I’m flabbergasted. If I close my eyes for a minute, I might think I was in the Bush era.”