Without the work of women like Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, and Sister Simone Campbell of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK, there would be no health reform and therefore no contraception coverage mandate to argue over — not just for the employees of Catholic hospitals and universities, but for the estimated 24 million other women who will benefit from this aspect of the law.

So, yes, a little gratitude from women’s health advocates and other liberals would be appropriate. Instead, when these Catholic sisters and others asked for some flexibility with regard to the mandate, the advocates pooh-poohed as irrelevant their concerns about religious liberty and insisted that “the bishops” were the only ones who had a problem with contraception coverage…

But the most tone-deaf move — the one guaranteed to turn the behind-the-scenes debate into a public controversy — was made by whoever decided the administration should announce the final rule in connection with the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. The rule is not about abortion, so the signal the White House meant to send was unmistakable: this is a gift for our pro-choice supporters. The symbolism alone undercut the feeble attempts of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Obama advisers to insist that they had struck “the right balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing women’s access to critical preventive health services.”…

The question for Sister Keehan and Father Jenkins, for Senator Casey and Sister Campbell, is not whether lay Catholics disagree with the Church’s teaching on birth control (a majority do) or whether nearly all Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lives (they do). It is not even whether some Catholic institutions already pay for employee health plans that include coverage for contraception (some do). The question is whether the federal government should be able to require a religious institution to use its own funds to pay for something it finds morally objectionable.