The Battle Over Birth Control

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As women’s health advocates — and social media champions — high-five each other over the reversal of the Susan G. Komen foundation’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood breast cancer prevention programs, another women’s health battle is brewing, this time involving Catholic bishops, Capitol Hill and the White House.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is seen in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. Credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that religious institutions’ insurance plans will be required to offer FDA-approved contraceptives for free. While churches and other places of worship are exempt from the requirement, Catholic hospitals and universities — that employ people of many denominations — are not.

Outraged Catholic leaders said complying with the rule would violate their moral conviction and dispatched letters to be read in Sunday Mass urging parishioners to pray that the Obama Administration would change its mind about this “severe assault on religious liberty.”

Republican presidential candidates opened fire on the Obama administration earlier this week. Tuesday night, Rick Santorum devoted a “substantial chunk” to the issue in his three-state victory speech. And, Wednesday morning, House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic, said that if President Obama doesn’t reverse his position, Congress will overturn it. As if on cue, Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska) introduced just such a resolution Wednesday afternoon.

According to Bloomberg News, the issue had been debated in the White House for months. Risking the alienation of Catholic voters in November, Obama sided with a group of female advisers, including HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, a Catholic, who opposed an exemption.

WonkBlog‘s Sarah Kiff reports that the White House will probably stand firm because of “the demographics that are most supportive of this particular health reform provision: young voters and women.”

Those two demographics are important here for a key reason: they were crucial to Obama’s victory in 2008. Third Way crunched the numbers earlier this month and found that the “Obama Independents” — the swing group that proved crucial to his 2008 victory — are, as Ryan Lizza put it, “disproportionately young, female and secular.”

Yesterday, White House officials seemed to hint at a possible compromise and supporters worry that the administration might be caving under growing pressure. Like the Komen controversy, this issue has caught fire on social networks — we recommend bookmarking #birthcontrol on your Twitter feed to stay on top of the story.

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  • Christine

    Why not do a story on how much government money goes to the Roman Catholic Church
    and its affiliates such as schools , colleges and hospitals? In my home state on NY, government meant for environmental issues went to the cathedral in Albany for remodeling!

  • Slicedmoon

    As a mature educated women, I sincerely feel that I am held in contempt by the likes of Santorum. Who does he think he is? Go get a womb and then you can have a opinion.  I lived in the Middle East and these attacts from the “CONSERVATIVES” have a familar ring. As a women, I must be deligent in protecting my rights as a human beings.    

  • Kelley

    No one seems to be asking the obvious question.  Why should anyone pay for someone else’s birth control or Viagra?  That is an individual choice and not a very expensive one.  What is the real issue here?  I don’t get it and I am a woman…and not a very well paid one at that…but I prioritize my expenditures and don’t put the responsibility on someone else’s shoulders.

  • Jo

    Here we go AGAIN! You can always count on the Catholic organization to try to keep humanity from moving forward into the future in any way.  If they could, they would move us back to the dark ages when religion and government were one and those who disagreed were burned at the stake.  Or perhaps to the time when the church sold dispensations to people with a promise that would get them into heaven. Why would anyone continue to listen to any message put forth by such a corrupt, totalitarian organization?

  • Lozensage

    I don’t understand your question.  We’re talking about insurance, you know medical insurance, paid for by workers and their employers paying for birth control.  It already pays for Viagra. 

  • Jo

    Yes, I agree.  Why is it that politicians are so concerned with controlling the uterus but not at all with controlling penises?  I wish that was original but I’m quoting Andy.
    Maybe because women still have less power than men?  Maybe because most men still wish they had control over women? Maybe because they want things to be the way they used to be before the laws in this country were changed to give women control of our reproductive power? It is sickening that this issue of our bodies and our control over them comes up over and over and over.