What U.S. President Obama’s Birth Control Announcement Really Means

There’s a home video somewhere on VHS that shows a pre-pubescent Nakia proclaiming that she wants to be the first black female President of the United States … and a model. Very cute, if not some indication of future megalomania, but I would not wish for job of POTUS today after seeing what President Obama has had to endure in the latest of many battles over birth control. Here’s the rundown:

On January 20, 2012, the Obama Administration announced that most employers will be required to cover birth control in the healthcare plans offered to their employees  with no co-pays or deductibles. This put contraception in the same league as other preventive services under the Affordable Care Act. In plain terms, President Obama gave us universal coverage of contraception.

Cue the outrage from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who claimed that President Obama was trampling on their religious freedoms by forcing religion-affiliated employers to “violate their conscience.” Despite the fact that the mandate exempts religious organizations like places of worship and religion-based nonprofits whose employees are mostly of the same faith, opponents to contraception firmly opposed putting birth control on the same plane as Viagra in employees’ health plans.

Americans hold the freedom of religion as one of our most dear founding principles, so we ought to approach this with care. However, it’d be much easier to take the Bishops seriously if President Obama was enacting some new, overreaching restriction that trampled upon the rights of Catholics and other folks with a faith-based opposition to contraception. That’s simply not the case here where 28 states already have such mandates requiring employers, religiously-affiliated or not, to cover contraception in their health plans. The only thing that makes President Obama’s mandate “new” is that now, it applies to all states and contraception must be covered 100%. Rachel Maddow went off on this point last week and it’s worth a watch (at 5:24).

As more comes out about this mandate, the Bishops’ cries of religious persecution become less convincing and we see this for what it is — another way to control women’s bodies, our sexuality, and our ability to decide if and when to become a parent. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “virtually all American women aged 15–44 who are sexually experienced have at some point used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning (99%). This is also true of Catholic women, 98% of whom have used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning.” The point was underscored last week by a Public Policy Polling survey which found that “56% of voters support the decision to require health plans to cover prescription birth control with no additional out-of-pocket fees and 53%  of Catholic voters favor the benefit.”

I imagine the Obama Administration was getting pretty tired of having to defend something so obviously positive for women’s health and still really considerate of employers’ religious freedoms. That’s why on Friday, the President announced what the Administration called a “common sense solution.” Basically, the President said: Don’t even worry about it, Catholic hospitals, universities, nonprofits, Taco Bells, or any other employer. You don’t have to make birth control available to your employees in your health plans. I’ll just make the insurance companies do it. In fact, this is a much better idea I just came up with — cut out the middleman, so to speak. Thanks for giving me the idea, Bishops. More officially, “all women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services. The insurance company will be required to reach out directly and offer her contraceptive coverage free of charge.” Citing the desire to wrap this up quicker than a Chipotle burrito, President Obama said, “After the many genuine concerns that have been raised over the last few weeks, as well as frankly the more cynical desire on the part of some to make this into a political football, it became clear that spending months hammering out a solution was not going to be an option. That we needed to move this faster.”

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