The recent uproar about women’s rights and healthcare makes me feel like I am back in the 1950’s. Birth control is a non-controversial issue, or at least it was until Newt Gingrich, in early February, latched on to the fact that the Obama administration had mandated that birth control be covered at no co-pay as basic health care by insurance providers (which the Obama administration announced in mid-January.) It took a while for the GOP to take hold of the issue and blow it out of proportion. They cried that it violated the first amendment, the freedom of religion because while it exempted churches and places of worship from having to provide the coverage, it did not exempt religious businesses like hospitals or universities.
What happened next is actually unbelievable. The right began screaming about religious freedom and President Obama’s “war on religion”. While the left saw what this fight was really about. It was something to divert the attention away from the recovering economy and a way to start talking about those pesky social issues they love so much. They wanted to turn back the clock and take away women’s access to birth control. By espousing religious freedom, they didn’t need to implicitly say they wanted to take away my contraception.
However, their attempts were see through. One of the top candidates for the GOP nominee for President, Rick Santorum stated, on camera, in October 2011 that as president he would talk about the “dangers of contraception” and religious groups who think it’s OK. “It’s not OK, because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be,” he says. “They’re supposed to be within marriage, for purposes that are, yes, conjugal… but also procreative. ” It was obvious what his stance was on birth control. Rick Santorum had been a social warrior on the scene for years. He was one of three congressmen who insisted that the federal government come back to congress on the weekend to intervene in the personal family matters of the Schiavo family in 2005. He led the crusade against partial birth abortions and compared homosexuality to bestiality (which he now denies). For a man who says he is not obsessed with sex, he spends a lot of time talking about it on the campaign trail; mainly telling people why they shouldn’t do it.
The Obama administration compromised, as they often do, and offered the exemption to religious businesses but that did not quell the outrage of the GOP. It didn’t matter that many of the religious leaders were satisfied by this compromise. The GOP thought they found something key to attack President Obama on now that they were losing in the attack against him on the economy, following 23 months of private jobs growth and a rebounding stock market. So they continued the drumbeat of religious liberty and the attack on religion.
On February 16, 2012 the House Oversight Committee held a hearing entitled “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” (Someone has a flair for the dramatic). They had a total of 10 witnesses to testify that day. Eight were men and two were women. They allowed two women to speak about women’s health care issues. This would be like having a panel of eight women and two men testify about Viagra or prostate cancer. All of the witnesses were there to state their opposition to the health care mandate to provide birth control. There was one woman in attendance that planned to testify in support of coverage of contraceptives. She was a Georgetown law student who planned to speak about her own personal experiences and those of her friends who attended a school that did not provide contraceptive coverage. She was denied the right to testify because she was not qualified. The two female democratic senators in attendance walked out.
The most outraged were the Catholic Church Bishops. The Catholic Church is morally opposed to contraception and they believe intercourse should only occur in a marriage and for procreative purposes. They spoke up the loudest in the beginning. Then when the Obama administration made an accommodation, they continued to protest because they decided that it was not right to provide birth control coverage to anyone. The nuns were no longer against the Health and Human Services decision. The US Catholic Health Association stood firm with the administration after they made the accommodation. But it was all the male Bishops who were still shouting from the rafters. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to take a lesson on women’s contraceptives from men who have chosen to be celibate for the rest of their lives. Mike Huckabee went so far as to start the rallying cry “we are all Catholics now!” Only here’s the thing. 98% of Catholic women have used birth control at some point in their lives. The church had even stopped teaching about the dangers of contraceptives for decades. So no, we were not all Catholics now Mr. Huckabee. I certainly am not.
I happen to be an atheist. An atheist on birth control pills and while I would like to say I am sexually active, I am not. I take hormonal birth control pills because it is one of three treatments for the incurable disease, endometriosis. The other options are multiple surgeries and hysterectomies. Here are some other female-only diseases that birth control prevents or treats: poly-cystic ovarian disease, ovarian cysts, ovarian cancer, irregular menstrual cycles, heavy and painful menstrual cycles, acne, and PMDD.
In response to the Health and Human Services mandate, Senator Blunt (R-Missouri) introduced the Blunt amendment that said employers were not to be forced to participate in:
‘‘providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious be liefs or moral convictions of the sponsor,issuer, or other entity offering the plan; or ‘‘such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.”
If this amendment were to pass I could possibly lose coverage of the one thing that is controlling this painful disease. Even worse, employers could choose other basic health services and decide they were morally opposed to them. Some religions are against mental health coverage and believe that prayer will chase away the blues. Did I mention I was also bi-polar? Perhaps your employer decides that he is morally opposed to people who do not exercise and do not eat healthy foods, so he will no longer cover cardiovascular disease. Or he is against smoking, so too bad if you get lung cancer or COPD! There is no reason that an employer should be able to decide which health care services he is willing to provide to their employees. It should not be left to them to make that decision.
Senator Blunt snuck this amendment into the Energy and Transportation bill which happens to be a must pass bill. We must speak up to our congressmen and senators and voice our outrage against this amendment and our support for the mandate covering women’s health services. It is a slippery slope once the republicans get started taking away fundamental rights of the individuals in the disguise of religious liberty.