Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Birth Control Tempest Grows Sillier Still

Roman Catholic bishops oppose birth control. Many Republican congressfolk and some Democrats oppose birth control. All of the Republican presidential candidates, to one degree or another, oppose birth control. All this despite the fact that a strong majority of Americans are adamant about having the right to decide whether to use birth control and what method to use, and support the Obama administration's requirement that health insurance plans cover the cost of contraceptives for religiously-affiliated employers.

Let's put some perspective on the issue. We're not talking about cigarettes or alcohol here, and because of the attendant risks these addictive substances pose, government at the federal and state levels has every right to regulate their use. What we are talking about is devices and methods for sexually active individuals. These include male and female condoms, spermicides, diaphragms, IUDs, cervical caps, contraceptive sponges, as well as hormonal pills, patches, shots and implants. Then there is natural family planning and the morning-after pill, which pro-lifers regard as a form of abortion.

Beyond those bishops, who remain determinedly out of step with the American mainstream let alone many member of their flock who ignore the church's ban on contraceptives and so-called family values conservatives who believe that women should walk several steps behind their men, can it really be that John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan are against their wives managing their reproductive lives and planning when and whether to have children?

Can it really be that they object to Missus Boehner, Cantor and Ryan taking a sexually active teenage daughter, and a majority are sexually active regardless of their parents' political affiliation, to Planned Parenthood or another clinic for counseling and getting a prescription for birth control to prevent an unwanted pregnancy and, heaven forbid, an abortion?

The answer is of course not. But opposing birth control in general and a provision of the Affordable Care act mandating affordable access to contraceptive services and products in particular is the politic thing to do if you are a member of a party that considers their wives and daughters to be second class and have been handed a ready excuse to declare that President Obama is anti-religion, a claim that becomes sillier every time it is uttered.

The tempest over Catholic and other religious-affiliated hospitals and medical facilities being required to hew to the Affordable Care Act for their employees prompted the White House to offer a compromise in the form of outsourcing contraceptive services to non-sectarian providers, but the bishops and Republicans want to keep the issue alive for as long as they are able.

Incidentally, the overwhelming support for the Affordable Care Act provision extends to Catholics and polls taken since the tempest erupted show that they have not changed their overwhelmingly positive views of the president.

The timing of the tempest is no accident.

With the economy finally showing signs of recovering and Obama's approval ratings climbing back into the low 50s, Republicans and their presidential wannabes are being denied a cudgel that they have been swinging since Obama took office, so they are defaulting to the tried-and-true culture wars. That is, tried and true for them; most voters don't give a spit. And how ironic that the mandate that Republicans now so vehemently oppose was being promoted by them in 1993 as an alternative to HillaryCare.

Darrell "Mr. Republican Oversight" Issa will convene a hearing tomorrow that he is choreographing as "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" All nine witnesses will rail against the Obama administration while none of the religious groups supportive of the Affordable Care Act will be heard from.

As Andrew Sullivan, among others, has pointed out, Obama's greatest skill is in getting his opponents to overreach and self-destruct.

Rick Santorum, who actually believes he can win votes campaigning against contraception -- because birth control makes the gals sexual libertines, ya know -- will sooner or later hit a wall and you can be sure if he backs into the nomination, it will be a killer issue for him in the fall. As in a landslide loss.

In any event, I continue to believe that a compromise will be hammered out sooner or later, but not until the church and GOP have their fill of Obama bashing.

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