Will the GOP win the birth control fight?

My response to the question above. What’s yours?

If President Obama caves to the Catholic Bishops on contraceptive coverage, especially on the heels of his recent caving on Plan B emergency contraception, he is toast with the wide spectrum of progressive and middle-of-the-road women who elected him.

If he, on the other hand, engages this controversy wisely, he can recast the debate over contraception properly into one about women’s moral and human right to make their own childbearing decisions, as well as one essential to the health of women and children. In so doing, he will be a hero to the 99% of American women, including 98% of Catholics, who use birth control at some time during their lives to responsibly plan and space their children. And well over 75% believe that contraceptive coverage should be mandated in insurance coverage, as it currently is in 28 states and the Federal employees health plan, in addition to being the standard of care in health insurance in general.

The right is trying inaccurately (deviously?) to create a religious freedom issue with a dash of the dreaded abortion debate thrown in for good measure. Let’s get this straight: no one is trying to force religious institutions that primarily serve their own flock to do anything against their consciences. Those institutions are free to do whatever their faith dictates.

Catholic schools serving primarily Catholic students with primarily Catholic staff using private money are different from large public institutions such as hospitals that are run by Catholics but serve a broad range of the taxpaying public with a broad religious spectrum of staff and use billions of federal dollars to do so (think, Medicare, Medicaid, Federal program and research grants, etc.). Those institutions should no way be exempt from providing contraceptive coverage because they are essentially secular institutions despite being stewarded by religious orders.

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But look further behind the curtain, the Bishops and anti-women’s rights members of congress are trying to roll back the clock FOR ALL THE REST OF US on existing laws that rightly require health plans to cover contraception if they cover other prescription drugs.

We women are the 99% on this one, and we’d better speak up or we are in great danger of losing all the hard fought gains that were made during the last two decades to include basic contraceptive care in health plans. It’s only fair, and it’s the standard of good health care to boot.

Read the original post on Politico Arena here.


  1. Aletha on February 10, 2012 at 1:41 am

    What puzzles me is why so many are framing this as a battle between the “right” and Obama, when prominent Democrats such as VP Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, ex-Chief of Staff Bill Daley, ex-DNC Chair Tim Kaine, and Senator Bob Casey have all expressed concerns about political fallout from this requirement for contraceptive coverage, and are pressuring Obama to work out some kind of “compromise,” and he seems anxious to do so. With friends like these, who needs enemies? Obama is not engaging this wisely; he should never have floated the idea of compromising on this rule in the first place. This is all about political expediency. Obama takes women for granted. What else is new?

    I agree with Jodi Jacobson. From your first link:

    Given all of the above, what the White House is doing now is grossly unclear to me. And given this administration’s troubled history with women’s health and rights (see: Health reform, abortion, Stupak, Nelson, Executive Orders, Hyde), these “clarifications” without finality are not reassuring. At each point in the past instances above, the Administration was not going to change its mind, and then it signaled conciliation, and then, voila, the White House changed its mind. Now, they are continuing to feed rather than combat an underlying narrative that basic reproductive health care is not part of basic primary health care, that there is something wrong with it, that it is in fact sinful, and that it is stigmatizing. This is a bad omen at a very bad time. Given that no compromise is acceptable to the USCCB or to any of the far right fundamentalists seeking to control all of women’s health, there is nowhere for the White House to go except to stand up and say no more, or to cave.

    As I said before, this is triangulation at its worst. You said before about your take on the State of the Union that you were getting slammed from the right and the left, so perhaps that meant you had hit the nail on the head? On this issue Obama is getting slammed from the right, the left, and the middle, and rightly so, because he is hitting women on the head. The right wing smells his blood, and they will exploit his weakness as far as they can. They may not get all they want, but in a sense, they have already won.

  2. Aletha on February 11, 2012 at 2:08 am

    It appears the master politician has found a way to thread the needle after all. I wonder what was the point of this exercise. Perhaps I do not understand the legal fine points, but it seems to me the policy has been changed so that the religiously affiliated institutions do not have to provide free insurance coverage for contraception, but the insurance companies do. Is this just a way for those who object to contraception to save face, a distinction without a difference? Or was this a canny move by the President to force Republicans to go out on a limb, so he can pose as a reliable ally for women’s rights while the Republicans make fools of themselves?

    My head spins. I marvel at the ability of this President to have his cake and eat it too, but I still think he plays games with fundamental rights.

    • Stacy on February 14, 2012 at 9:27 am

      Aletha- I have a hard time believing that this “fix” is going to pass muster in the courts- directing insurance companies to pay for the coverage without copay in order to exempt the Catholic organizations, seems a bit of a stretch. I don’t often go out of my way to defend insurance companies- quite the opposite- but if I were an insurance executive I’d be scratching my head right about now. I hope this isn’t a case where Obama has chosen a very short term POLITICAL fix (for himself) all the while knowing that in reality, it will never be implemented due to legal challenges across all the states.

  3. Stacy on February 14, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Now that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops have demonstrated that they have become little more than a subsidiary of the GOP, can we pull that tax exempt status now? The Establishment Clause has never stood for the proposition that religious institutions can be exempt from laws of general applicability that they happen to deem morally offensive. This is a classic case of give and inch, take a mile- they wanted their original exemption expanded. The new definition of religious freedom seems to go something like this: “I want tax exempt status from the govt, exemptions from laws I don’t like, all the while retaining the ability to advocate political positions from the pulpit. Oh, and if anyone disagrees with this then that is evidence we are being persecuted for our beliefs.” Right. There is nothing more annoying than powerful, monied, politically-connected elites claiming to be the REAL victims.

    Do I understand the Bishop’s position correctly?

    At least now, after Obama’s “compromise” they are at least being more honest- now they want all contraception coverage removed totally from the health insurance mandate, irrespective of whether employers are affiliated with religious orgs- this of course is what they wanted all along. It was never about religious freedom because as stated above, the govt has done more than enough to accommodate them.

    Does someone need to remind the GOP, the Religious Right and the Bishops how third party insurance reimbursement works in an employee-sponsored group plan? It’s actually the employees that are paying for their coverage- the money has been taken out of their/our paychecks each week. The big Catholic universities and hospitals LONG AGO stopped being self-insured because it was/is too expensive.

    I find it endlessly fascinating how the Church throws all it’s considerable weight around ONLY on issues that involve social control of reproduction and the policing of gender norms and marriage (ie. gay rights). If only they would get as obsessively pro-active about abolishing the death penalty, decreasing the gap between rich and poor and ending all the senseless war we’re engaged in that has killed tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent people. That would actually be pro-life.

    Of course all of this is a good distraction from some of the Church’s problems- huge decline in membership, the fact that Catholics in the West aren’t following their dictates anyway (98% of Catholic women in the US have used birth control) the ever-growing, ongoing sexual abuse scandal etc.- much easier to just go “oh, but look over there, birth control pills and two guys kissing!”

    • Gloria Feldt on February 14, 2012 at 10:29 am

      Stacy, the astonishing thing to me is the extent to which the media lets the Catholic church get away with this framing and so few people call them on it. They have lost their own flock but they want to impose their retrograde beliefs about sex on the rest of us? Puhleez.

      • Stacy on February 15, 2012 at 8:40 am

        It’s a disgrace. The way the mainstream media shows unquestioning deference to the Catholic Bishops (and Evangelical Right) even as it became glaringly obvious that the uproar from the Bishops about religious freedom was just pretext for their real goal- restricting access to contraception for ALL women, via the health care reform bill.

        Religious leaders of all stripes have a right to their own views, but they do not have a right to hide behind their religion when they catapult themselves over the line separating Church and State while advocating laws and policies that trample over the rights of ALL of us, irrespective of religion.

        I have a friend who is a Nurse Practitioner and a Franciscan Nun and she told me she walked out of Sunday Mass this past weekend because the priest went on and on about Obama’s supposed violation of their religious freedom with respect to contraception. Now, granted, she is quite progressive, but she told me she can pray at home- she doesn’t need to go hear the same lecture every Sunday about 1) contraception is abortion and 2) the evils of gay marriage.

        BTW, sort of on topic- did you hear the Vatican is undertaking a doctrinal investigation of US nuns (the women who lead each of the individual orders for Women Religious) for being too socially progressive, feminist and independent? Naturally, the Pope seems primarily concerned with 1. contraception and b. attitudes towards gay rights and gay marriage. Apparently, prior to becoming Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was pretty obsessed with reigning in US nuns because they were too social justice minded. You can’t make this stuff up.



        • Stacy on February 15, 2012 at 8:46 am

          Regarding those links- the first one is quite old, from 2009. The second one is from 2011. I couldn’t find an update from the last several months regarding whether the investigation had completed. I don’t think it has.

          • Gloria Feldt on February 15, 2012 at 9:25 am

            It’s hard for people to fathom today that I was introduced to Planned Parenthood by a priest and a nun. They had empathy for the women in their parish and the parents who had more children than they could feed and clothe. They were humble, and said that they had no right to tell their flock they had to have babies every year when they were not in a position to provide the necessities of life to them. I have often wondered whether they remained in the church after it became increasingly retrograde on the subject of contraception and started cracking down on the priests and nuns who didn’t toe the hierarchy line.

  4. Stacy on February 15, 2012 at 2:43 pm



    The only possible good that could come of this political showboating is that people will see just how far the GOP and the Catholic Church are over-reaching. It also smacks of really pathetic desperation. The religious right can’t handle social evolution- gay rights, women’s rights, less rigid gender roles/ideas about family etc. and they are now lashing out at anything and everything like wounded bears.

    As for the Priests and nuns you mentioned in your comment above- there is a reason no new people are entering the Catholic religious orders. It’s almost as though the Church doesn’t care and is trying to drive the nuns out, at least in the US (and focusing instead on Developing Countries where the Church has more power over people’s lives due to poverty, lack of education and entrenched gender roles).

  5. Aletha on March 1, 2012 at 2:44 am

    One aspect of this brouhaha I rarely see mentioned, except by Rick Santorum. What is going to happen to Title X funding for family planning and other health services? Is that going to be phased out since those services will be covered by insurance? I see over and over cries that Republicans are trying to block access to birth control. Is that true, or spin? It appears to me that with the exception of the most extreme, they are not opposed to access to birth control, only that insurance should cover it free of charge, which Title X is currently doing anyway for poor women. Is this really about whether women who can afford birth control will have to pay for it? If the Title X funding is eliminated, poor women may end up worse off, since they may have problems getting health insurance. Would Medicaid be the stopgap?

    I do not like the way Democrats are spinning this. If someone is unaware of the Title X funding, it might sound like Republicans are determined to outlaw birth control, and though there are some who would like to, they are a small minority even among Republicans. Patty Murray said this:

    “Instead of doing the hard work we need to get more Americans back to work, they’re going to try and try again to deny millions of women access to critical preventive health care just to score political points with their extremist base,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

    This is misleading at best. Who is talking about denying access? If Republicans have their way, millions of women may have to pay for health care services their employers find objectionable, which presumably would include birth control, but not include such services as mammograms or Pap smears anyway. Who finds those objectionable, besides people like me who question the benefits of mammography? However, I have heard of no Republican candidate for President calling for the repeal of the Title X funding for these services. Regardless of what happens to the insurance mandate in question, I hope that funding stays intact, because some poor women are likely to need it!

    • Gloria Feldt on March 1, 2012 at 10:58 pm

      My view, Aletha, is that instead of framing the issue as religion versus access to health care, it should be framed as two opposing religious and ethical views about human sexuality and the status of women in society. And in a pluralistic society, the solution to that is never to allow one religious point of view override another (which the Bishops are attempting to do). Then you can bring in the health care access issue in that without access, all the rights in the world mean nothing.

      • Aletha on March 2, 2012 at 1:36 am

        Actually this society is supposed to be secular. I know in practice it has drifted away from that, but the whole idea of separation of church and state is to keep any religious viewpoint from influencing the laws and rights of the people. I view health care as a fundamental right, without which the right to life means virtually nothing. The religious right has attempted to turn the right to life into a right for every fetus to be born, as opposed to the right of people to live, but if health care is a fundamental right, why on earth is it put in the hands of insurance companies? Is health a privilege? Why should anyone trust these insurance companies, just because a few new regulations have been put in place to control their worst excesses? If health care were treated as a right, the whole issue of who pays for what disappears.

        I hope I am wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Obama put this insurance mandate for birth control in place so he could phase out Title X funding and say, no federal funds will be paying for abortions or birth control! This whole circus is certainly providing cover for Democrats, allowing them to pose as the protectors of women’s health, hoping feminists will forget about Plan B and the compromises forced on women to get the health bill passed.

        There may be some issues with access to Title X funding; as far as I know it is not always available to women who need it. I think those problems could be fixed more easily than getting everyone signed up for health insurance.

        As much as I dislike what the Blunt amendment was trying to do, I think Charles Schumer took the cake for the most egregious distortion of what is at stake:

        “The Republican Party suddenly wants to turn back the clock and take away contraception from women. Make no mistake: that’s what this debate is about,” New York Democrat Charles Schumer said in the Senate on Wednesday.

        No, that is just inflammatory pandering BS meant to manipulate women. Unfortunately his remarks were far from atypical. I wish politics could be a little more rational and less about distortion and demonization of opposing views, but I suppose that is expecting too much.

        I noted Robert Casey voted in favor of the Blunt amendment. How is that big tent theory working out for the Democrats?

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