In formulating his decision to make birth control available with no co-pay, President Obama has had to walk a tight rope with women’s health on one side and freedom of religion on the other. This tight rope is proving to be especially precarious with groups on both sides watching closely for any misstep. Luckily for women, the President listened to his own conscience in making his final decision.
In the past few days, however, religious and social conservatives have been fighting back. The Catholic Church and the Republican presidential candidates have been in full attack mode, insisting that the President has launched a “war on religion.”
Conservative political pundits insist that the President has made a political blunder. But is that right? According to recent polling the answer is NO. A new Public Policy Poll released this week shows 56 percent of voters support the birth control coverage benefit, including 53 percent of Catholic voters, and 62 percent of Catholics who identify themselves as independents. This poll is not alone: the Public Religion Institute also released a poll this week which showed 58 percent of Catholics believe that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception.
Even though the regulation only applies to religious-affiliated institutions, such as hospitals and schools, and not to the religious institutions themselves, the opponents of the regulation insist that it’s a violation of religious and personal freedoms. But whose? What about the nurses, secretaries, janitorial staff, and other employees of all faiths who work at Catholic hospitals or universities and who want contraceptive coverage. What about them? And what about practicing Catholics who disagree with the church’s position on contraception? What about their religious and personal convictions? According to the Guttmacher Institute 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lives.
When you look at these public opinion surveys you realize that President Obama didn’t just choose to stand with the majority of women – he chose to stand with the vast majority of Americans who, regardless of their religious denomination, believe that women should have access to modern methods of birth control.
Later today, the Obama Administration is expected to offer a compromise that is designed to satisfy his critics. Let’s hope that he doesn’t desert his conscience…or the reproductive health and rights of women.
Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager