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Will Obama's Thanksgiving Gift to Catholic Bishops Be a Tax on Women's Health Care?

As early as this weekend, Obama may cave to demands by Catholic bishops that they not be required to cover contraception under health-care plans for women employees.
 
 
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Women's groups working to save coverage of women's health care in the president's health reform plan are concerned that President Obama will cave as early as this weekend to demands by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (271 clerics, all men) to eliminate coverage of birth control without a co-pay for women who work in Catholic institutions, including hospitals and social service agencies.

The reason? The president seems to think he "owes" the bishops for their help with passage of health reform.

Really?  See... I thought this president was elected primarily by the hard work and support of women, Latinos, African Americans, and young people. And the data back me up. Young voters and Latinos were credited with giving Obama a "commanding victory" in 2008 and, according to post-election analysis, unmarried women were an "even greater source of support." From USA Today:

Unmarried women—a group that includes single, separated, divorced, or widowed women—voted for Obama over Republican opponent John McCainby a whopping 70 to 29 percent in yesterday's election, according to numbers released today by Women's Voices Women Vote, a nonpartisan organization.

Female voters made up 53 percent of all voters responsible for Obama's victory in 2008.

Selling Out the Base?

Moreover, groups representing many millions of women throughout the country worked tirelessly -- exhaustively -- for well over a year to support the president's health reform initiative. They did this even when women lost benefits in the process, supporting the president and able in the end to point at least to gains in coverage of fundamental preventive care such as birth control without a co-pay as a victory.

Now, a president who doesn't seem to be able to resist pressure to cave on any number of key policy issues is considering actually further diminishing this victory in a kind of bait and switch--promising women they would not lose coverage, but in fact by caving to the bishops, taking away coverage millions of women already have.

This is a tax on women. Birth control without insurance coverage can run as much as $600.00 per year. Without consistent access to birth control, women face constant risk of unintended pregnancy, abrogating their fundamental rights to plan their families and make decisions about how many children to have and when; to decide about their own educational and economic paths; to safeguard their own and their family's health.  Such a tax will of course fall most heavily on low-income women, and therefore most heavily on Latina, African American, and Native American women who already make up a disproportionate share of this economic group.

This is a tax on women, one many groups expect the president may levy as soon as this weekend... because, you know, a holiday weekend is the best time to engage in an act of capitulation and have it get less press attention.

Would Obama Allow Bishops in His Bedroom?

I am of the mind and practice that, no matter who you are, an individual's sex life, their sexual orientation, their contraceptive practices, fertility goals, pregnancy terminations and so forth are off limits for public discussion as long as we are talking about legal activities between or by consenting adults involving no form of coercion.  It's really not my (or your) business.

That is, unless you are a politician, lobbyist, media, religious or other public figure who uses other people's sex lives to advance your own political or religious goals. And especially if you are among those figures listed above and you claim moral superiority over others for political gain. Then your own life is open to scrutiny and is a legitimate part of the conversation.

My sense of boundaries is sufficiently strong that I would never think to ask or talk about contraceptive use by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama -- because it is none of my business.

However, the White House has made plain the president is considering broadening an already broad exemption for religious groups on contraceptive coverage in health reform under pressure from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  This would result in the loss of coverage for millions of women.

This is unacceptable, as RH Reality Check has demonstrated in many articles articulating why all women should have access to contraception through their health insurance plans, on the grounds of economic, social, and health benefits, as well as to protect the religious and moral liberty of the vast majority of the United States population.

But it also made me realize something. It seems not only plausible but nearly 100 percent certain that, barring any fertility problems (which again are not otherwise my business), the president and first lady practice birth control, as evidenced by the length of their marriage and the fact that they now have -- and appear to have stopped at -- two children. Data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute show that the typical U.S. couple wants only two children. To achieve this goal, they must use contraception consistently for roughly three decades.

Women Deserve the Same Contraceptive Coverage Your Family Has, Mr. President

It is obviously the right of the Obamas to plan their family. But let's put this in context.The president and first lady are, fundamentally, public servants who receive health-care coverage courtesy of the American people. While I do not begrudge them this at all, it is pretty clear to me that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is not -- technically speaking -- in bed with president and Michelle Obama. In other words, the Obamas are not subject to the bishops' twisted arguments on "religious liberty" and "conscience" clauses, and the bishops are not controlling the Obamas' access to contraception. Their method is, I am sure, covered, in effect, by us.

And, I am also pretty sure this is the case with the rest of the White House staff. Insurance coverage for the White House staff and members of the administration almost certainly now includes some coverage of birth control (the majority of plans do) and will include coverage of birth control without a co-pay (if not fully so now, then clearly when the mandate goes into effect). In fact, the president is fond of saying that Americans should have the same access to health-care coverage as he and members of Congress do.

Which is exactly my point.

I think it is safe conjecture that the Obamas don't want the bishops in bed with them.

Neither, as the wealth of evidence shows, do the millions of Catholic and non-Catholic women and men who use contraception and would be adversely affected economically, in terms of health, and by more unintended pregnancies as the result of any politically-motivated capitulation to the bishops on birth control coverage in insurance plans.

Let's let the bishops sleep by themselves and keep them out of everyone's bedrooms.

President Obama: Make sure that all women have the same access to birth control without a co-pay that you, your staff, members of Congress and others will enjoy.  Like you said, we all just want what you have. 

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The following groups are asking you to join them in telling the White House not to throw women under the bus:

Feminist Majority Foundation

Emily's List

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

NARAL Pro-Choice America

Jodi L. Jacobson is editor-in-chief of RH Reality Check.