Do Republicans Really Want to Declare War on Birth Control?

What Women Really Think
Feb. 14 2012 12:00 PM

Republicans’ Not Smart War on Birth Control

138570535
Senator Marco Rubio speaks during an address to the 39th Conservative Political Action Committee February 9, 2012.

Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Do Republicans really want to make contraception their big front in the war over national healthcare? That’s the thrust of new bills from Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. I wonder if it’s a good strategy. Contraception isn’t abortion: It prevents unwanted pregnancies rather than ending them. And everyone uses it—after last week’s flap with the bishops, the stat about 98 percent of Catholic women using birth control at some point should be tattooed on our foreheads. Will the GOP really get people to rally around the idea that providing free access to birth control is a plot by the federal government to take over our lives?

Rubio and Blount’s bills are pitched to employers. Rubio’s would allow employers to deny coverage of birth control for a religious or moral reason, and Blunt would let employers out of paying for any kind of health care that runs counter to their beliefs. We’re not talking about Catholic-run Georgetown University any more—we’re talking about Domino’s Pizza. And under Blunt’s bill, could a Christian Scientist employer who doesn’t believe in modern medicine deny any kind of coverage at all?

Advertisement

What’s at stake here is what it means to have national, near-universal health care. If any employer can opt out of covering birth control or any other not even controversial care, then we’ll never have an agreed-upon menu of basic services that everyone receives. It’s a way to cut big holes into the Affordable Care Act, without repealing the law or convincing the Supreme Court to strike it down. Rubio and Blunt seem to think the flurry of protest over the Obama administration’s earlier plan to make Catholic hospitals and universities pay for contraception directly will translate to this far broader Tea Party-friendly stance.

But the polls were with Obama even on the make-them-pay-for-my-IUD plan, and now that the administration has (wisely) backed down from that unnecessarily confrontational position, it can claim the reasonable moderate middle ground. (The Maine ladies, Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are on board—always a good middle-ground sign.) Rubio and Blunt, on the other hand, are in danger of seriously overreaching. For the sake of taking a scissors to national health care, they’re acting as if religious liberty trumps every other value. The upshot would be to deny free contraception to millions of women. Who, presumably, vote.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

The Ludicrous Claims You’ll Hear at This Company’s “Egg Freezing Parties”

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 1 2014 10:49 AM James Meredith, Determined to Enroll at Ole Miss, Declares His Purpose in a 1961 Letter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 10:54 AM “I Need a Pair of Pants That Won’t Bore Me to Death” Troy Patterson talks about looking sharp, flat-top fades, and being Slate’s Gentleman Scholar.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 10:44 AM Everyone’s Favorite Bob’s Burgers Character Gets a Remix You Can Dance to
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 10:27 AM 3,000 French Scientists Are Marching to Demand More Research Funding
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.