As we move into a new year, it is reassuring to be reminded that rank-and-file Americans are a caring and practical people, sometimes more so than those elected or appointed to lead them.
Two examples stand out in 2012, both vital to the well-being of children.
One is the groundswell of popular support for what became the Affordable Care Act, which included making contraception, breast screening, and other preventive services available and affordable to all women.
In a survey released in the fall, more than two out of three adults said health insurers should be required to cover the full cost of birth control. More than three out of four said the government should assist poor, uninsured women acquire contraception when they cannot afford to pay for it themselves. (The survey was carried out by Social Science Research Solutions, an independent company.)
A majority of Catholics said that religious institutions should include birth control coverage in their insurance policies. Even young, evangelical Christians -- frequently more conservative than other young people -- called on churches to support contraception for singles in their 20's at a conference in Washington.
There are strong reasons, both moral and economic, for supporting planned births. Passage of the Affordable Care Act was not a given, however, as certain conservative lawmakers argued that government funds should not be used to pay for contraception. (Side note: Apparently they paid little heed to Texas legislators who, in 2011, cut $73 million from family planning programs, learned in 2012 that the potential cost to the state of additional babies could be as high as $273 million, and have been scrambling to figure out how to restore what they took away.)
Congressional opponents of affordable care tried several moves to derail the bill, including alleging that insured women would not have to pay anything for their birth control. That was wrong and they knew it. The bill simply meant that women would pay for contraception as part of their insurance premiums, just as they do for other health services.
It took Sandra Fluke, until then an unknown third-year law student at Georgetown University, to move the bill toward passage by relating at an unofficial congressional hearing what happened to a female friend who couldn't afford birth control. Hours later, conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh called her a slut on his show, an insult that blew up in his face and assuredly helped the bill pass into law.
Americans' good sense surfaced also this past fall in the results of a randomized, national survey on gun control by the Public Religion Research Institute, an organization that encompasses a wide political spectrum. According to that poll, "52 percent of Americans favor passing stricter gun control laws, while 44 percent are opposed." Even more Americans support stricter enforcement of current laws: 67 percent in favor, 31 percent opposed. It's important to note that the poll was taken prior to the massacre-by-gun of 20 children and six adults at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
After the shooting, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found similar levels of public support for tougher gun laws. So did research by two Georgetown University professors.
While a few congressional conservatives have said they would consider restrictions on guns and gun sales, more have not. In other words, some of the politicians who, in effect, encourage unplanned births by denying easy, affordable access to contraception, are the same people who support the sale of weapons that kill children.
Undoubtedly some of them receive backing from the large, well-financed National Rifle Association, which reacted to the Newtown incident by calling for armed guards in all schools. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre told reporters.
So a shootout in school between a bad guy with a gun and a good guy with a gun will result in fewer kids being shot? Please, show some good sense. Numerous studies have shown that more guns in circulation result in more shootings, deaths, and serious injuries. As Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. noted in a column post-Newtown, "No other developed country has such massacres on a regular basis."
America's children deserve to be born into a family that wants them and can support them, and to grow up in a society that knows best how to keep them safe. They also need to know -- and the rest of us sometimes need reminding -- that the loudness of a few voices does not equal the support of the many.