Once again, women’s reproductive rights have come under attack from the religious right, and the Obama administration has scurried to compromise with these bullies.
The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March 2010, includes stipulations that require most health insurance plans to cover FDA-approved contraceptive services without cost sharing. Exceptions were included in the legislation for churches and houses of worship, but the mandate still applied to religious-affiliated organizations. This includes Catholic universities, hospitals and charities which employ hundreds of thousands of women, both Catholic and non-Catholic, throughout the United States.
Despite a 2011 Guttmacher Institute study indicating that 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women have used contraceptives at some point in their lifetime, Catholic bishops and conservatives looking to capitalize off the brouhaha have railed against the measure, claiming that providing any contraception to employees violates religious freedom.
Of course, nothing is said of how their insistence on forcing their religious views on women violates women's rights to control our own bodies.
In response, the Obama administration compromised with the anti-woman demands by rearranging the plan so that women seeking contraceptives are able to obtain them directly from the insurance company. Under this arrangement, religious employers would not be directly paying for the coverage, as insurance companies would incur the costs.
Still unhappy with this arrangement, the bishops have pushed their demands a step further by saying that any Catholic employer, including Catholic small business owners, should be exempt from paying for insurance coverage that includes contraception. The bishop’s refusal to be mollified by Obama's concessions indicates just how much the issue is not one of religious freedom but of control. Even when the responsibility to provide contraception is taken out of the hands of Catholic employers, those in power within the institution continue to insert themselves into the lives of women and their reproductive decisions.
Another slap in the face to women everywhere came on Feb. 16, when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to examine the new regulation and its effect on women’s health—with an all-male panel! The one woman the committee requested to speak on the panel was not allowed to testify by the committee's chairman, Rep. Darryl Issa.
The whole situation would simply appear to be absurd if the lives and health of millions of women were not depending on it. Foster Friess, a billionaire super-PAC contributor to Rick Santorum, even outrageously stated: “Back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly.”
The reality is that the vast majority of people, including Catholics, in the United States support the right of women to have access to safe and effective methods of birth control. A recent poll shows that 65 percent of all voters support the birth control coverage mandate for insurance plans, while 59 percent support requiring such coverage even from religiously affiliated institutions. Some 57 percent of Catholic voters supported requiring church-affiliated employers to provide contraceptive coverage.
These attacks on a woman’s right to contraception come on the heels of a year with some of the most insidious anti-abortion campaigns in decades. Most recently, the numerous assaults on Planned Parenthood and attempts to pass so-called Personhood Amendments have opened the door for new conservative threats on the rights of women.
The Obama administration’s capitulation to the demands of the religious right and their conservative politician cronies demonstrates how the rights of women and working people in general are never truly protected under capitalism. As soon as any gains are made, the ruling class looks for every angle from which to roll them back. On the other hand, in a socialist state, like Cuba, free contraception, like all health care, is a human right.
Women’s oppression can only be defeated by a militant struggle against the capitalist system.