Today, the White House has chosen to alter its healthcare mandate after Republicans decided to wage a war over it. Just to recap, in response to thousands of petitions and pleas from people around the country (including the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the National Council of Jewish Women), last month the Obama administration announced its modification to the new Affordable Care Act declaring that all religious-affiliated employers, with the exception of churches and other houses of worship, would have to cover free birth control as part of routine preventive care for women. This was seen as a victory all of the country -- that regardless to where a woman was employed, she would have access to affordable and effective birth control.
However, in an attempt mend their fractured party and rally their base, the Republicans decided that THIS would be the issue to bring their party together... crying that it's not fair that religiously affiliated organizations, like hospitals and universities, be required by our federal government to purchase insurance policies that violate their religious and moral convictions. Seriously? Of ALL the issues to claim unjust, THIS is the one the GOP decides to battle over? I guess these politicians don't think it's unfair that millions of Americans are upside on their mortgages, can't find work, face inequities in tax rates (favoring the wealthy) and the list goes on. Yet, they decide to wage a fight over women's access to contraception? Did I miss something here... we aren't even talking about the more heated issue of abortion? There is no disputing the FACTS that contraception use is associated with better women's health, higher marital satisfaction, lower birth rates, less unplanned pregnancies and abortion (and this lists goes on as well).
So what if these religious organizations are obliged to follow the Affordable Care Act? When you think about it, not all of their employees may share the same religious objections to contraception. Is it fair that, for example, the only place a nonreligious woman can find a job is as a janitor at a Catholic university and because of her place of employment, cannot receive the contraception she needs and can't afford? And even if the employees are of the same faith, it has been clearly demonstrated that women of faith do not usually "buy into" the Church's stance on contraception prohibition. Does the GOP not get that 99% of women use birth control during their reproductive years, and that religious women (including those who are Catholic) use contraception at practically the same rate as the general population (with only about 2% of Catholic women relying on natural family planning)? Let's get real... whose interests are the Republicans looking out for? Seems to me that they care more about uniting their party than the health of thousands of women. Are we to believe that no Republican politicians use birth control? Or are they okay that as long as their insurance plans are covering their contraception, its okay to fight for other people to not have coverage? I don't see the GOP objecting to insurance coverage of Viagra -- does anybody else see the problem here?
Anyway, today the White House came back with a solution to this religious clause (which should hopefully shut the GOP up for a little while). The Obama administration announced that religious employers will not have to extend free access to contraception, but that insurance companies will have to. Basically, women who want birth control will still be able to get it free of co-pays or premiums, but universities, hospitals and other institutions with religious affiliations can decline to cover it, leaving the woman's insurance company with the responsibility of coverage.
At a press briefing, President Obama discussed the new mandate,
"No woman's health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes... Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive service no matter where they work... That core principle remains. But if a woman's employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company, not the hospital, not the charity, will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge without co-pays, without hassle."
Alright, so the president is honoring the principle of religious liberty -- something that he explains, "As a citizen and as a Christian, I cherish this right." I am okay with this. Am I happy that his administration was forced into a hole and that in order to stay true to the First Amendment and get these zealous GOP leaders off their back, the administration was basically forced to make accommodations... no! However, all women will still have access to vital preventative services and free contraception and, at the end of the day, that's what is REALLY important. Plus, the White House didn't completely cave.
GOP leaders like Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, didn't really get what they TRULY wanted... the removal of all contraception mandated coverages. Can you even imagine what the US would be like if women didn't have affordable birth control to use? We wouldn't see another 3% decline in the national birth rate, that's for sure. Yet, while he was governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney proudly declares in a Feb. 9 press release that, "the legislation in our state that related to providing contraception and sterilization, those kinds of things, in insurance, occurred before I was governor and my effort as governor was to try and remove those things." ("Those kind of things"... really Mitt? Are we in kindergarten?) He also endorses, "The Romney Vision: A Record of Promoting Abstinence, Not Sex Education" ... as governor, he released $1 million in federal funds to a faith-based organization (let's not even talk about those violated First Amendment rights you are crying about) to teach abstinence in schools OVER comprehensive sex education. We all know by now that abstinence-only programs do NOT work, and teens need more than abstinence lectures. Yet, it is pretty clear that he does not support contraception and views it as the "ultimate corruptor".
Plus, Mr. Romney has said, "What is it about America's culture and values that makes us such a successful nation and society? Part of that is we love liberty..." And, as long as we are on the subject, let's look at a few more of Mr. Romney's thoughts -- as they are reflective of so many in his political party:
"My own view is clear. I stand with the Catholic Bishops and all religious organizations in their strenuous objection to this liberty- and conscience-stifling regulation. I understand that my views on laws governing abortion set me in the minority in our Commonwealth. I am pro-life. I wish the people of America agreed, and that the laws of our nation could reflect that view. And of course this effort with regards to contraception and the day after pill, and sterilization is an outrageous assault on religious conscience in this country" (From press releases on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9, 2012).
Mr. Romney, did you ever think about WHY the people of America do NOT agree with you and thus why the US laws don't mirror your beliefs? My advice to Mr. Romney and the rest of the GOP, get your facts straight. Political office is NOT your platform to promote your own view, but rather about acting in the best interests of the American people. Remember the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment... that Congress and government are not allowed to display the preference of one religion over another, OR religion over non-religion? And allowing women affordable access to contraception (contraception that has all been FDA-approved)... whatever they need, should not only be protected, it is what the women of America WANT. You said so yourself, Mr. Romney, the "American people love liberty", so WHY are you and your fellow GOP leaders so intent to strip that away from thousands of women? Given the number of religious women who use contraception reliably in this country and cherish this opportunity, maybe it is only YOUR "religious conscience" that has deemed contraception access as an "outrageous assault" (and perhaps maybe the Pope's)...
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