Metropolitik: Right’s war on women? (UPDATED)

Republican lawmakers strongly oppose a mandate in President Obama's health care law that requires all employers to provide employees coverage for birth control.

A surprising issue has been creeping into the national debate, promising potentially disastrous results for the right: women’s health.

Last week was dominated by news of the Komen For The Cure controversy, in which the breast cancer fundraiser’s decision to defund women’s services provider Planned Parenthood erupted in a firestorm of Internet outrage, culminating in the resignation of the principal agent behind the politically motivated move.

Now, Republican politicians are making big noise about a mandate, connected to Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act, requiring employers to provide preventative care for women. Because the Catholic Church has taken a strong stance against this rule — claiming that their hospitals and universities ought to be uniquely free of the employer requirement — House Speaker John Boehner has promised to kill the “unambiguous attack on religious freedom.” Mitt Romney similarly hit Obama for imposing his “secular vision on America,” also pledging to block the law. Rick Santorum has even implied that the requirement puts America on the path toward the guillotine, whatever that means. And Tea Party star Sen. Marco Rubio, at this weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference, drew loud applause in strongly rebuking the measure.

It does seem, though, that Republicans are going against the grain here, with majority support for the mandate even among Catholics. (One statistic claims 99 percent of American women have made use of contraception. That’s a huge voting bloc!)

Beyond that, criticism of this law is simply wrongheaded. For one, the allegedly new mandate has actually been federal law for more than a decade, following a December 2000 ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission finding those who refuse to provide such care in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. (Under the EEOC interpretation, if an institution offers preventative care — including men’s medications such as Viagra — then it also must offer birth control coverage.)

But more importantly, mandating that employers provide such basic care for employees is no restriction of religious freedom. Catholic hospitals, which employ plenty of non-Catholics, have no religious freedom; Catholics do, and if they don’t want to use contraception that is their
federally sponsored right.

Republicans have now introduced several bills to restrict women’s access to family planning services, including a bill by Rubio that could impact millions of women — or, put another way, millions of voters.

UPDATE: The Obama Administration has compromised with the religious groups opposed to the Act. Now, insurers will be required to step in and provide birth control coverage when an employer refuses to include it on religious grounds.

Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author, or any opinions expressed on its pages.

Illustration: Billy Becerra/Metro


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