The Corner

In Re My ‘Sexual Tumult’

Katie McDonough is vexed about my column on the Hobby Lobby case in a way that only a Salon writer dedicated to the issues of gender, sexuality and reproductive justice” can be.

She is very sure she is right about everything and that I am a “real tool-bag mush brain” for trotting out conservative “talking points.”

I don’t know what a tool-bag mush brain is, but I will take solace in the fact that I am not a fake one.

I’m not sure her screed deserves a response, but since she says my piece is “ kind of emblematic of the entire conservative enterprise of being super-wrong about employer health insurance” maybe it’s worth replying.

First let me just say that while she may be an expert on “reproductive justice” – whatever that is – her expertise on my interior life is quite limited. I won’t recount all of the idiotic ad hominem assertions she makes about my motives and worldview, but suffice it to say she literally has no idea what she’s talking about.

She doesn’t do much better on the facts of her own beat.

She writes:

First, Goldberg argues that “there is no Obamacare contraception mandate.” Well, there is a contraception requirement included in the new healthcare law. It may be increasingly easy to opt out of because it is filled with loopholes, but it exists. So that dispenses with that! Reality: 1; Goldberg: 0.

Her reading comprehension skills need work. My clear point is that the law — you know the legislation Congress debated and passed — does not have the contraception mandate taken up by the court. The law gave regulators the power to create one. The Court’s decision doesn’t touch the law, merely the actions the regulators took. Take that, “reality.”

McDonough then asserts:

In a funny way, Goldberg is right that Hobby Lobby never objected to covering birth control — that is, until it became a politically expedient way to strike a blow to the Affordable Care Act, grandstand about religious liberty and expand its power over its employees.

It seems she’s as bad at reading the minds of Hobby Lobby’s owners as she is at reading my own. Couldn’t it be that Hobby Lobby objected to the mandate because there was no need to object to the mandate before it existed? Couldn’t it also be that they were willing to incur huge costs and controversy because they actually hold their faith dear (it’s hardly as if there’s much evidence that Hobby Lobby was a rightwing pagan outfit that suddenly found Christ just to thwart Obamacare). It is true that Hobby Lobby’s old policy covered Plan B and other forms of birth control it now objects too. I can understand that this seems suspicious to folks on the reproductive justice beat, but I can think of more plausible reasons why they didn’t want to be compelled by the state to provide it, including the possibility they simply didn’t realize what they were paying for.  McDonough might do us all a service by doing some reporting on the question rather using her limited mind-reading skills.

As to whether some of these products can cause the death of a human embryo is hotly debated. Two points are worth making here. First, the evil Christianist sexist Obama administration conceded the point. Second, under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, all that is required is for owners to sincerely object to these contraceptives. If McDonough doesn’t like the law – and obviously she doesn’t – that’s not my problem.

Another irrelevancy McDonough trots out as if it is a devastating rebuttal is the question of who is paying for the disputed contraceptives. It’s true that the employee pays for the coverage out of her compensation. But it’s also true that the employer is implicated in the purchase of these products as well. What the owners object to is being complicit in the purchase. It’s a fine distinction and in a funny way she’s right about the economics, but the economics are largely irrelevant to the issues in dispute.

She’s also right in a funny way that Hobby Lobby could simply opt out of providing health insurance at all. McDonough writes:

Goldberg also ignores the fact that if Hobby Lobby wanted to, it could stop providing insurance to employees and pay the costs associated with opting out of that coverage. But it didn’t want to do that, and instead fought for an à la carte approach to observing federal law. Now why would it do that? Oh, I guess maybe because the deduction for employer-provided coverage is the single largest tax expenditure in the federal budget and allows Hobby Lobby to remain competitive by offering benefits while shifting a sizable amount of this cost burden to the government. But sure, call it an act of benevolence if that suits you.

Of course, McDonough ignores the fact that “pay the costs associated with opting out of that coverage” is shorthand for paying steep fines. We are all presented with the choice of opting out of various government mandates. The question is whether such costs are right, just or lawful. Thomas More was presented with the choice of opting out or complying with a mandate. He chose to pay the costs.

McDonough no doubt hates that analogy. But not as much as she hates my Game of Thrones analogy, and maybe analogies in general. I wrote:

If I like to dress up as a character from Game of Thrones on weekends, pretending to fight snow zombies and treating my mutt like she’s a mystical direwolf, that’s none of my employer’s business. But if I ask my employer to pay for my trip to a Game of Thrones fan convention, I am asking him to make it his business. If my employer refuses, that may or may not be unfair, but it’s his right. If, in response, I go to the convention and have the government force my employer to pay for my travel, that only makes things worse. It not only makes my private pursuits my boss’s business, it makes them the business of taxpayers and a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington.

She goes on a very tiresome tear about this. I’ve gotten a lot of grief about this analogy on twitter as well. I’m starting to think that part of the rage over this analogy stems from the fact that untrammeled abortion rights are simply sacramental for some feminists and any language that doesn’t recognize the holiness of the sacrament is outrageous. That’s not my problem.

The fact remains, however, that my analogy is perfectly illustrative of my point; Hobby Lobby employees are free to spend their own money without implicating their employers in the process. I suppose I could have searched for something more reverential – a private religious ritual perhaps – but I see no reason why I should be obliged to. If McDonough thinks I honestly believe that going to a GOT convention is just like procuring abortifacients she’s even more clueless about my views than I gave her credit for. But being deliberately clueless about people she disagrees with seems to be part of the job description for reproductive justice reporters.


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