The Republican crusade to limit access to birth control for women across the country took an ugly turn last week. As our Republican colleagues continued their effort to extend the reach of the government into the bedroom, most of them stood silently by while one of their favorite radio personalities launched a despicable, sexually charged attack on a respectable young woman. If this is what passes for family values in Republican circles these days, things in the Grand Ol' Party have indeed come to a sorry pass.
It is a certainty that their efforts, if successful, will have a damaging effect on women's health. Make no mistake -- though the headlines have been about birth control, the issue here is women's health.
Birth control is directly and undeniably related to women's health. Birth control protects women from the risk of bearing children before they are ready. Birth control helps to ensure that women do not bear too many children or bear children too soon after their last pregnancy. Birth control is used to relieve symptoms of endometriosis, regulate a cycle, reduce acne, relieve symptoms of depression, reduce migraines, treat polycystic ovary condition, alleviate anemia, and even reduce the risk of some cancers.
And despite misleading Republican talking points about not wanting to subsidize birth control, studies have shown that it may be less expensive in the long run for employers to provide employees with no co-pay coverage of birth control than to deny such coverage altogether. This is in large part due to the fact that no-cost coverage improves a woman's access to birth control, which means fewer unwanted and/or potentially harmful pregnancies. And that can significantly reduce the huge long-term costs of care related to problem pregnancies and pre-mature births.
According to a 2010 Policy Review by the highly regarded Guttmacher Institute, there is a strong, long-standing body of evidence that contraceptive services are a vital and effective component of preventative and public health care with substantial positive consequences for infants, women, families and society.
And stripping a young woman of her employer provided insurance coverage can produce a serious economic barrier to her ability to access such services. Oral contraceptives alone can cost an uninsured woman as much $1,210 dollars a year.
So, denying birth control coverage to women can result in significant negative consequences for infants, women, families and society.
Of course, the biggest impact will be on women. Because 100 percent of those who can have their health damaged by an unplanned pregnancy are women.
100 percent of those who die from complications related to pregnancy are women.
100 percent of those who give birth -- are women.
So, I would like to suggest to our Republican friends that they drop the pretense that the subject is religious freedom. It is not. Changes to the health care reform act already made by the Obama administration mean that churches and religious organizations do not have to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives.
No one at these organizations with religious or moral objections to birth control has to use contraceptives, approve of contraceptives, prescribe contraceptives, or dispense contraceptives. Some religiously affiliated organizations, however, will not be allowed to impose their religious views on those who do not share them. In this collision of rights, the right of women to access health care must prevail.
Some sincere members of the religious community have tried to make the case that they do not wish to have any of their tax dollars go towards supporting access to birth control in any way whatsoever. But one of the accommodations we all must make for the privilege of living in a free and pluralistic society is that sometimes our tax dollars will help to pay for activities we may not approve of, or support.
For instance, I share with many religious leaders a deep-seated opposition to the death penalty. And yet our tax dollars will comingle with the funds from those in the majority who approve of capital punishment. When executions occur some small portion of my tax dollars will go toward paying for an executioner's salary. And I do not approve. But that is part of the price we all pay for living in a democracy. Yes, it may seem problematic at times. But, in all the world, there is no better system of government.
I also know that there are good folks on the other side of the aisle who argue that access to birth control is simply not an issue. And those are nice words. But actions of the far right speak much louder than words -- and taken together they form a clear and disturbing pattern.
· On the state level, Republicans in at least 18 states are pushing bills or ballot initiatives that would define "personhood" in such a way as to render illegal many forms of commonly used birth control.
· Republicans in seven states have filed lawsuits to attacking the provisions in the health care reform act that give women access to contraceptives.
· On the national level, Republicans have introduced legislation in both the House and Senate that would outlaw many forms of commonly used contraceptives.
· Republicans in the House have already voted to strip Planned Parenthood of any federal funding, which would make it much harder for poor women to obtain reproductive health care and contraceptives.
· Republicans in the Senate brought legislation to the floor to allow any employer, including for-profit private sector companies, to deny insurance coverage for contraceptives if doing so is contrary to their religious beliefs or "moral convictions." Democrats voted it down. But Republicans vow to keep trying.
Taken all together, these legislative initiatives show a widespread effort by the far right wing to impose their own religious views on those who may not share their beliefs and to limit a woman's access to reproductive health care and contraception. And if they succeed, it would have a negative impact on us all.
That is why, at that now infamous Republican hearing on birth control, I asked: "Where are the women?" Women must have a say on policy issues related to their own health. And you know what? I never did get a good answer from them. So I would like to hear from you. Send me your own personal stories of the health consequences of access denied. Send me your own pictures of decision-making bodies, without a single woman on the panel. Send them to me -- at: firstname.lastname@example.org -- and I will send them a message for us all.
And I think I am going to just keep on asking: "Where are the women?" Because I think all of us deserve an answer. Women deserve a place at that table.
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