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Are Conservatives Winning the War on Women? How the Religious Lobbying Industry Truly Threatens Our Rights

Put aside opinion polls and the Komen and Virginia wins. The right's strategy is long-term and based in the courts.
 
 
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There’s been a troubling trend among some liberals to do a premature victory dance over the contraception insurance benefit debate. Look at the polling data, the reasoning goes, and you’ll find even Catholics support both Obama’s policy and his reelection. Who doesn’t use birth control, except for few outlier zealots? This is a political winner for Obama and the Democrats, the victory dancers contend. Game, set, match.

It’s far too shortsighted, and worse, dangerously complacent, to measure victory election cycle by election cycle. (Even gaming the outcome of this year’s election is a risky proposition at best.) The opponents of birth control insurance coverage don’t use an election as a metric. Sure, they’d love to win, but even a loss inspires them to redouble their efforts, not to pack up and go home after learning they are on the minority side of public opinion.

They are evangelists. If public opinion isn’t on their side, they’ll strive to change public opinion. They are dogged, well-financed and unrelenting. Their claims about the proper role of religion in governing and policymaking — which Democrats fail to contest forcefully enough — are eroding the separation of church and state, and taking down gains made in access to reproductive healthcare along with it.

Democrats have attempted to defuse the Republican framing of the issue as one of “religious freedom” by arguing that the real issue is women’s health. In making that argument, they regrettably glide over a crucial step in the logic. Yes, it’s undeniable that what is at stake here is reproductive healthcare. But in claiming that their religious beliefs entitle them to an exemption from a regulation requiring insurance coverage for birth control, clerics and their Republican allies are attempting to relitigate and overrule established Supreme Court jurisprudence in the court of public opinion — without pushback from Democrats.

As Scott Lemieux  writes at Lawyers, Guns and Money, “a constitutional challenge to the contraception provision  wouldn’t even rise to the level of being frivolous” under existing constitutional jurisprudence. Contrary to conservative claims, the Supreme Court has not interpreted the Free Exercise Clause as requiring such expansive religious exemptions. But in our current political climate, which causes Democrats to crouch in fear of being labeled anti-religion, such exemptions are nonetheless tucked away in legislation at the behest of the  burgeoning religious lobbying industry, becoming law even if not required to protect free exercise rights.

Case in point: an  exemption in the Affordable Care Act for members of healthcare sharing ministries, who reject insurance and pay for their fellow “professing Christians’” medical costs. The lobbyists  approached a Democrat, former Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello, who did their bidding for them.

Indeed, the Affordable Care Act in its final form was cobbled from capitulations to religious demands. Conservatives — including Democrats like former congressman Bart Stupak — threatened to prevent passage over their false claim that the bill would require federal funding of abortions. Even a superfluous reiteration of the Hyde Amendment’s abortion funding ban, offered by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., failed to satisfy Obama allies like Jim Wallis. He  pressed, in the name of “ the faith community,” for even greater restrictions on insurance coverage for abortion, even though no taxpayer funds were going to be used for it in the first place.

Existing standards for covering birth control at the state level, which have been upheld in court and laid the groundwork for the Obama policy, are now “in danger because the right, which has now been unmasked as opposing contraception as well as abortion … stayed in the ring and flamed up an issue,” says Gloria Feldt, a  former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and author of “No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.”

 
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