Carol Shea-Porter - The GOP Birth Control Patrol

If moderate Republicans mistakenly believe they and their party are stuck in a Saturday Night Live skit, who can blame them? Their Republican leaders’ intrusion into matters that are none of their or the government’s business just doesn’t seem real. Would one of their top two candidates for President really rail against contraception? “One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country,” Santorum promised in a chat with The Caffeinated Blog. “Many in the Christian faith have said, ‘Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s OK.’ It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” The other candidate, Mitt Romney is unwilling to stand up for women, even though he described himself as pro-choice in another life and race.

The Republican Congress decided to hold a hearing to determine whether the Obama Administration was trampling “freedom of religion and freedom of conscience,” even though President Obama had decided that insurance companies, not religious institutions, would pay for birth control for employees who worked in a faith-affiliated school or hospital and chose to use contraception, which costs about $50 per month.  (The original rule just exempted Churches and other Houses of Worship.) The Congressmen invited five men for the first panel, and refused to let the woman whom the Democrats wanted to testify speak. Five men talking about birth control issues without women at the table does sound like a Saturday Night Live skit, but sadly, it was real.

While Republicans were talking or listening to men talk about birth control, our Republican members of Congress were posturing, claiming that the Obama Administration was violating religious freedom. They failed to mention that New Hampshire has had a law requiring insurance coverage for contraception, without any religious exemptions, since 1999. It was passed by 120 Republicans and 121 Democrats and two Independents, back in the days when Republicans in the NH State House worked with Democrats for the good of the state and the people.  Those legislators apparently agreed with what President George H. W. Bush said in Congress when he was a GOP Rep: “If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter.”

The congressman from NH-1 has repeatedly said that if a woman needs an abortion and her life depends on it, he would deny it and let her die. No exceptions, not even in cases of rape or incest. He voted for HR 358, which would allow hospitals that receive federal money to deny an abortion to a woman, even if she would die without one.

One would hope that he would give a woman a fighting chance and at least let her prevent conception in the first place, but he has doubled up against women. He is a cosponsor of HR1179, Respect for Rights of Conscience Act. This bill would allow “a health plan to decline coverage of specific items and services that are contrary to the religious beliefs of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan or the purchaser or beneficiary…without penalty.” What does this mean? While these men are trying to prevent coverage for contraception, it actually means much more. It means your boss might be against mental health coverage, so you don’t get any. Or your boss might be morally against anyone having more than two children, so he or she won’t cover your third pregnancy. Maybe your bosses are completely against alcohol or cigarette consumption, so drinkers and smokers get no coverage.

What is the reason for all of this? Why do these men want to shut out access to birth control, something that almost everyone wants, needs, and uses?  Why do the few who believe that it is a mortal sin want to make everyone else follow their beliefs? Don’t others have First Amendment rights also? And why would politicians throw themselves into the role of enforcers?

It is puzzling. Maggie Gallagher, President of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and a Santorum supporter, writes that he “needs to show he can put the contraception issue to bed. Now.”  In Politico, former Bush White House Political Director Sara Fagen said, “As a general rule, when you’re in a bucket talking about women’s health and morality that’s not a space you want to be in long term.”

Politicians are politicians, not Preachers. In November, women will remember who thought otherwise.