It’s Not About Religion

Mitt Romney is angry — or at least, his words are (since given his robotic demeanor, it’s a little bit hard to ascertain the man’s feelings on anything).

His stump speech now includes the complaint that this mandate is an attack on freedom of religion:

“This same administration said that churches and the institutions they run such as schools, and let’s say adoption agencies, hospitals – they have to provide for their employees free of charge – contraceptives, morning-after pills — in other words, abortive pills and the like, at no cost. Think what that does to people in faiths that do not share those views. This is a violation of conscience. We must have a President who is willing to protect America’s first right, our right to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.”

Last night, Rick Santorum won the (non-binding) Missouri primary and whined about the Obama Administration’s directive that all employers offering health insurance include coverage for contraception:

“And we saw that just in the last week, with a group of people, a small group of people, just Catholics in the United States of America who were told you have a right to health care, but you will have the health care that we tell you, you have to give your people, whether it is against the teachings of your church or not.”

Santorum and Romney’s characterization of the ruling is wrong. So was that of Speaker John Boehner, who took the fight to the floor of  the House of Representatives, vowing to reverse the new policy in Congress if the President doesn’t back down:

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“I’d like to underscore that as Boehner decides to bring legislation to the floor – all the time we are dealing with that topic, we are not dealing with the issues the American people really care about: unemployment, jobs, and security,” said Representative Lois Capps (D-CA-23). Capps was one of four Congresswomen who responded to Boehner’s remarks in a hastily arranged press conference this afternoon.

Capps was joined by Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9),  Gwen Moore (D-W-4)  and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), who began the session by pointing out that the Health and Human Services recommendations announced last month to cover FDA-approved contraception was “a common sense reform long overdue, a victory and a transformative step forward for women’s health.”

Representative Moore was indignant about the Administration’s so-called attack on religious freedom from people who want to impose their religion on others. “HHS and the President  came down on the side of women who want to exercise not only religious freedom, but freedom,” she said.

“Most of the opinions that we hear against this rule are from men,” she said. “This [is a] distortion of the concept of separation of church and state. We all respect its benefits but don’t think we should misconstrue this as the ability of the church to get on the bully pulpit and separate women and families from desperately needed healthcare.”

Statistics bear this out. Eighty-three percent of American women of reproductive age use birth control at some point in their lives. Ninety-eight percent of American Catholic women use contraceptives.  Women who pay for contraception out of pocket are currently spending $50-$100 per month, which could add up to $18,000 over the course of a woman’s reproductive years.

No wonder the most common reaction I heard to the news of the ruling was “it’s about time.”

But this ruling is not about what’s popular or drug sales. Representative DeLauro explained that the decision was based on recommendations by the Institute of Medicine — an independent, nonprofit group based on science, tasked by the Administration to help establish a comprehensive set of scientifically based recommendations for preventive health measures specifically for women.  The result was a menu of recommendations for services that will be provided without a co-pay — a list that also include pre-conception and prenatal care, screening for gestational diabetes,  comprehensive lactation support and counseling, screening  for domestic violence, screenings for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, counseling for sexually transmitted diseases, and family planning services.

And yes, access to all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, plus education and counseling, as prescribed by a woman’s doctor.

“More than half of women avoid or delay these services due to cost,” DeLauro said. “Women’s health is finally put on an equal footing in these guidelines.”

DeLauro pointed out that women are prescribed oral contraceptives for conditions unrelated to birth control. (The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 28% of users take the pill to regulate their menstrual periods, 14% take it for acne, 4% for endometriosis). Also: studies show that use of birth control pills can decrease the risk of ovarian cancer.

“Contrary to what John Boehner says, drugs that induce abortion are not covered,” said DeLauro.  She was referring to RU-486, the “morning after pill” marketed as Plan B.

This is a lie repeated by all of the GOP candidates, who are misleading the public by telling them that the Administration is requiring Catholic hospitals to give out free morning-after pills.

As to the charge that the new Federal rules restrict freedom of religion, the Congresswomen pointed out 28 states already mandate coverage of contraception, including Illinois, where Catholic universities DePaul and Loyola already comply.

Representative Capps, who serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, remembered a panel where Catholic hospitals in California could not point to any jobs or profit lost because of the contraceptive mandate. “It is cost-neutral,” she said. “The cost of not providing coverage without additional burden to women saves money in the long run.”

Shakowski said she doesn’t know where the Republicans will ultimately go with this.  “We need to encourage them to support the women in their districts by not eroding access to birth control.  This is not about religious freedom but about women’s access to healthcare and contraceptive coverage.”

It would be nice to think that the radical members of Congress are thinking of what’s best for their constituents, but if the last two years are any indication, I’m not holding my breath.

 

 

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