For the first time in however many decades, contraception has emerged as a contentious issue in American politics, though observers seem fairly divided as to which party is poised to benefit the most. The roots of the schism lie in Obamacare, which, in a most novel fashion, is slowly starting to evolve from mere totemic abstraction into an actual, enforceable law with real-world consequences.
As we may remember, the President’s Affordable Care Act placed a number of new legal obligations on employer-based insurance plans, including a list of medical services they would henceforth be expected to cover for all employees under all circumstances. Most famously, this necessitated a ban on denying coverage on the basis of so-called “pre-existing conditions,” but also stipulated that anything involving “preventative care” must be provided in all plans without any obligation of co-payment. On January 20, President Obama’s secretary of health clarified that “preventive care” includes birth control, morning-after pills, female contraceptive devices, and even sterilization surgery, since pregnancy tends to be among the medical conditions women are most eager to prevent.
The problem is that not all American employers — the ones who have to foot the bill for all this stuff — are necessarily down with contraception. Catholic employers, for instance. The Obama administration, however, specifically refused to grant conscience exceptions for all but the most religiously strict employers (such as, say, a nunnery) meaning most broad-based Catholic organizations, including Catholic schools, charities, or hospitals are still on the contraception hook.
Of course, all evidence suggests this is exactly what their employees want. As the White House itself noted, studies have found that 98% of American Catholics claim to use birth control without qualm, and the health insurance regimes of many states already demand mandatory contraception coverage without faith-based exemption.
Yet in what is probably yet more evidence of the disproportionately large influence right-wing Catholics have over the American political discourse, the issue is now in its second week of news cycle-dominance. Spurned on by the US Council of Bishops, who have released a number of angry press releases on the matter, the Republican presidential candidates have made outrage over the birth control mandate one of their leading talking points on the stump, while GOP leaders in Congress have already begun planning to repeal the offending regulations.
The issue, conservatives say, is primarily one of religious liberty. No government should ever have the right to step between a faith-based employer and their employees, and undermine religious values by distributing morally objectionable material. It’s basically a fresh spin on the ol’ “condoms-in-schools” argument: regardless how medically necessary or desired contraception may be, the right of religious leaders to opt-out of supplying any product that violates their beliefs should ultimately take precedence over any imagined right to the product itself.
Republicans are gambling that this somewhat complex philosophical argument is a winning one, since it’s not really about contraception at all. The bigger story, as they see it, is the sheer spectacle of Obamacare itself, and the extremely top-down, authoritarian, busybody way it goes about aggressively modifying millions of private, personal health insurance plans across the nation. Obama’s tone-deaf, one-size-fits all approach to contraception coverage is a symptom of a larger, tone-deaf, one-size-fits all approach to governing in general, and who knows what realm of your life will fall victim to his central planning next?
On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that contraception is a very dangerous bit of political fire to be playing with. As I portrayed in an earlier cartoon, it doesn’t take much for wild, ignorant misconceptions to evolve out of a few oft-repeated hot-button phrases, and I’m not convinced it’s really in the GOP’s best interests for the words “Republicans,” “oppose,” and “birth control” to be constantly appearing in the headlines, regardless of what clarifying phrases fall in between.
Listening to FOX News radio last night, the dominant topic of caller interest was not how to best create workable contraception opt-out clauses for faith-based employers, but rather outrage that the GOP was once again clamouring to “tell people what to do with their bodies.” With birth control having a literal 99% approval rating among the American public, even the most casual misconception among swing voters regarding what exactly Republicans are opposing has the potential for very serious consequences.
Obama, in typical fashion, has since caved somewhat on his original policy. On Friday he revised his central planning rules to exempt faith-based employers from covering contraception in their insurance plans, but added a new rule stating that dissident employees would still be eligible to gain access to birth control from the insurance companies directly, so long as they were comfortable making a special appeal. This has, of course, satisfied no one; liberals are aghast at the compromise and conservatives are vowing to pledge forward with a complete repeal of all language in the Affordable Care Act that makes contraception coverage mandatory, period.
To liberals, this episode thus bears all the hallmarks of everything they hate about the president: clumsy overreach in a moment of opportunity followed by a hurried retreat the second controversy beings to boil. Obama apologists, however, argue that this may actually be one of the most “crazy like a fox” moments of his presidency, providing the end result is a public with a somewhat hazy, though permanent, mental association between the GOP and puritanical hard-liners who hate legalized birth control. For a president who doesn’t have a whole lot of winning economic issues in his quiver, a retreat to the culture wars may be his best hope for re-election. A rare strategy for a Democrat, but then again, we live in unusual times.
Originally published at: http://www.filibustercartoons.com/index.php/2012/02/14/contraception-clarity/
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.
Want to respond to this article? Send a letter to the Editor (email@example.com).