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Barack Obama Was Right on Contraception Coverage Requirement

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As the White House found compromise on its Affordable Health Care Act policy requiring health care providers to cover contraceptives for women, many on the right saw yet another front being waged in President Barack Obama’s recurring “war on religion.” 

Roman Catholic universities, charities, and hospitals were required to cover contraceptives in their employee health plans, which, many clergymen saw as a violation of their Catholic doctrine. Amid the uproar, the White House tweaked the rule so that contraception would be provided directly from an insurance company and thus bypass objecting church-affiliated employers. 

The policy of requiring contraception coverage for women is not meant to infringe upon religious freedom so much as it is focused on the rights of women to have comprehensive control over their own health and have it be affordable. Obama was on the right side of this issue the whole time. The GOP obviously took advantage of this controversy and spun it in order to paint Obama as a tyrant of sorts. Nevertheless, access to contraception is essential for overall health of women. From a secular view (yeah folks, I am a godless heathen), government does have a role to play when it comes to differing treatment between genders. I do not believe I ever saw a priest preach out against Viagra.

One would believe that mostly all Catholics denounce contraception the same way their bishops and priests do. However, 98% of Catholic women have used contraception at some point, thus violating directly the teachings of their clergy. What’s more, nearly half of all Americans as well as 58% of Catholics support a contraception coverage requirement. In an open letter to Obama and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, 650 physicians and medical students, via Doctors for America, came out in support for freely available contraception and its importance for the basic health of millions.

Surprising to some, 28 states already have similar contraceptive coverage mandates in place. On top of that, several Catholic universities already allow for the coverage of contraceptives in employee benefit plans. These institutions include Georgetown University, University of Scranton, Christian Brothers University, DePaul University, and Boston College. One can argue that these institutions are all committing a theological violation but they are merely adhering to the reality that contraceptives play a substantial role in the overall health of women.

One of the loudest voices coming out against the coverage requirement is that of GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney. His campaign started an online petition condemning what he calls “a secular vision on Americans who believe that they should not have their religious freedom taken away.” While Romney was the moderate governor of Massachusetts however, he expanded access to family planning services. Perhaps Rick Santorum will have more rhetorical ammo against his flip-flopping opponent in the days and weeks ahead.

Although conservatives like Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) believe this is a constitutional issue instead of a social one, I disagree. Churches do not have to adhere to the requirement. Hospitals and universities are not exempt due to the fact that not all of their employees are Catholic nor do they serve Catholics alone. Many religiously affiliated hospitals and universities receive federal funds as well; thus complicating the religious right’s argument against government policy intrusions into such institutions.

Keeping true to limiting federal funding of abortions, abortion drug RU486 is not covered in the requirement. It’s important to remember that there is a correlation between contraception use and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions. Conservatives should at least be happy about that.

Photo Credit: blmurch

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