Late last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, backed by the Obama Administration, announced that all health insurance providers were required to include prescription birth control in their preventive health coverage. Kathleen Sebelius, who was still suffering major criticism for her December Plan B decision, decreed that all health insurance providers must give women access to preventive care services, as well as birth control, with the exception of houses of worship. As you can imagine, the decision has not been received easily.
Religious groups and institutions, predominantly Catholic universities, hospitals, and non-profits, decreed the decision as an infringement upon their 1st Amendment rights and an all-out threat to religious freedom, citing reasons from religious oppression to what “true” Catholics do and do not do. The mandate got even more flack as Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, introduced a bill aptly named The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that is intended to roll back the decision. From Nick Baumann at Mother Jones:
…the bill would allow any institution or corporation to cut off birth control coverage simply by citing religious grounds”¦ It has 26 cosponsors in the Senate; a similar proposal sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) has 148 cosponsors in the House. On Wednesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) vowed to repeal Obama’s rule, and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointed to Rubio’s bill as a potential model for doing so.
In English, this means that no entity has to cover birth control in a health plan if it can point to a religious reason for not doing so. And the entity itself is not required to have any religious affiliation. It could just be a plain old corporation. That means that if the middle-aged white guy who runs your company is religiously opposed to birth control, he can have it stripped out of your insurance plan–even if his Viagra is still covered. You could wake up the next morning and find you’re paying full price for drugs that you once got for free or at much-reduced prices.
Republican leaders who have already been warned by several GOP members to “back off” the fight on birth control have now found a fresh wound to react off of. House Speaker John Boehner called it “an unambiguous attack on religious freedom,” though to say that it is only GOP members is daft. House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson, Senator Robert Casey, and Senator Joe Manchin, all Democrats, have banded together with members of the GOP to reverse the policy.
But the ensuing backlash is not without a fight. It was reported by USA Today that more than “600 physicians and medical students from 49 states” signed a letter to both Obama and Sebelius urging them to protect the recent mandate. Other proponents of the measure (shockingly women) like Rep. Lois Capps were quick to point out that 28 states have similar plans for birth control coverage and Rep. Jan Schakowsky noted that the “religious based exception” would affect staff who are not Catholic yet work within Catholic institutions. “Women’s health care should not depend on who the boss is,” stated Schakowsky. ”The idea that birth control could be controversial in 2012 is outrageous.”
What the opponents of the coverage seem to be forgetting is that no one is forcing them to take birth control, but only mandating that they allow access and coverage to what the Health and Human Services Department deems as a “preventative service.” To also assume that all Catholics are the same and therefore do not want birth control under the banner of Catholicism being a “pro-life” based religion is to deny more than half of Catholic identified persons access to a necessary service. According to The Public Religion Research Institute:
- Roughly 6 in 10 Catholics (58%) believe that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception.
- Among Catholic voters, support for this requirement is slightly lower at 52%.
- Only half (50%) of white Catholics support this requirement, compared to 47% who oppose it.
From The Guttmacher Institute:
- Among all women who have had sex, 99% have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same among Catholic women (98%).
- Among sexually active women of all denominations who do not want to become pregnant, 69% are using a highly effective method (i.e., sterilization, the pill or another hormonal method, or the IUD).
- Some 68% of Catholic women use a highly effective method, compared with 73% of Mainline Protestants and 74% of Evangelicals.
- Only 2% of Catholic women rely on natural family planning; this is true even among Catholic women who attend church once a month or more.
- More than four in 10 Evangelicals rely on male or female sterilization, a figure that is higher than among the other religious groups.
“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms,” said Obama advisor, David Axelrod on MSNBC. “We’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions.” But here’s the thing. No one’s religious freedoms are being impeded. Institutions are only required to give access to the care, not to prescribe it. However, the logical measure is clearly not enough, and earlier this week, Obama announced that a “compromise” would be coming based on the recent push-back from critics. White House spokesman Jay Carney recently said at a press conference “There are ways to approach this that would ensure that the rule is implemented so that women have access to these important healthcare services no matter where they work, but also hopefully would allay some of the concerns.” What was intended to be a measure in providing accessible reproductive healthcare has now just become as Alternet’s Adele M. Stan’s described “presidential politics of contraception”:
Everywhere you look, birth control is under attack, most notably by all of the candidates competing for the Republican presidential nomination. To advance the cause, the candidates are allied with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has cleverly framed its war against women as an issue of religious freedom–a talking point that the candidates, especially frontrunner Mitt Romney and the second-place Newt Gingrich, have jumped on”¦ At a deeper level, though, the appropriation of the bishops’ position by the Republican candidates is the full-flower expression of what might be called the Romanizing of the Protestant right–a cross-pollination of convenience between historically opposed factions of Christendom, a phenomenon that has unfolded with little fanfare over the course of the last three decades.
Are we really so surprised, though? How could we be? Even the most basic attempts at providing access to reproductive healthcare are vilified as attacks on personal liberty and belief, many opponents citing that “the government need not be in personal business,” and yet, I can’t help choke on the sheer obtuse, hypocritical audacity of such a woodenhead, simple, and ill-informed statement, when at this very moment, those who use this sentiment are the same people who are lining up to do anything and everything to cut off access to abortion and Plan B. In other words, it’s all a sick joke. Reproductive access and healthcare in this country is a terminal joke, a constant playing chip in the morality as politic as privacy issue that remains almost always in the deciding hands of out of touch, fatuous, straight, white, male power figures who are nothing if not masking their thinly veiled contempt for the dying “good ole days” where reproductive access was something of an anomaly.
So forgive me if I sound “simple” when I believe advice columnist Dear Coke Talk describes it best when she says:
Here in America, only the creepy Jesus freaks think their religious doctrine supersedes a woman’s reproductive rights, and now that they can’t openly legislate their way into your uterus, they’re gonna find whatever bureaucratic back door they can to defund and dismantle the safe and legal family planning services that currently exist.
Because in the end, that’s all it’s really about.
[Update: This morning, The White House announced that contraceptive coverage is to be offered directly from insurers, issuing this statement: "Under the new policy announced today, women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she works...If a woman works for religious employers with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide contraception coverage but her insurance company will be required to offer contraceptive care free of charge."]