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Religious Liberty vs. Reproductive Liberty: A New Political Minefield Pits Women Against the Church

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Yesterday, billionaire Santorum supporter Foster Friess stole the political headlines when he told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell in his day, women didn't need contraception, "they used Bayer aspirin." According to Friess, women who kept aspirin between their knees didn't get pregnant and it worked just fine. While I honestly believe Mr. Friess' comments were about abstinence and personal responsibility, his views reveal what is so remarkably wrong with the flawed GOP presidential field and the entire Republican Party.

Mr. Friess, it is not your day, it is 2012. Modern women across the political spectrum do not take their reproductive rights, our right to plan our families, as lightly as you do. Friess' comments reinforce how out of touch Republicans are with the current generation of women AND men. Right-wingers truly believe in resurrecting some bygone, gilded era in American life, when women didn't need birth control, blacks and whites could be separate but equal, and homosexuality didn't exist.

Antiquated positions on almost every issue are alienating Republicans from the growing generation of millennials. These young voters are at a time in their lives when the decision to have or not have children is a paramount one. Men and women of ambition have their entire professional and personal lives ahead of them. These are everyday Americans who know introducing a child into our lives before we are ready, indelibly alters our choices, resources and responsibilities. There are many of us in our mid and late 20's or even our 30's who are not financially or emotionally ready to be parents.

Still, Republicans insist this fight has little to do with women's reproductive rights, choosing to focus on religious liberty. This is another glaring indicator of the GOP's dated and unreasonable thinking. In fact, Los Angeles Times writers Kim Geiger and Noam Levey reported on how the GOP traditionally has backed contraceptive mandates. Republicans must realize in today's America, minorities matter, women matter and the majority of Americans believe in an equitable society for all regardless of party doctrine. With economic doubt and recession all around, Americans are more committed to the preservation of their rights than ever. THAT is what we cling to. The belief Americans deserve to make decisions about our families and our lives free from government intervention. Especially women. An idea evidenced by recent reactions to Susan G. Komen vs. Planned Parenthood, the Catholic Church vs. the President and as of late, Chris Christie vs. the citizens and elected officials of New Jersey. Religious liberty cannot be used as a facade for what is obvious to many Americans. Republicans can't go after the President on the economy anymore, so trumping up charges of eroding religious liberties, is the only mud ball they have left to sling.

Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is on record saying he supports states outright banning the sale of contraceptives. Furthermore, he believes contraceptives lead to a lifestyle contrary to the natural order. As we all know, there is nothing natural about sex -- certainly in the GOP, where the candidates running for office have a combined total of 19 children. Gingrich ranks last as a father of two, none with his current wife Callista. Yet, each of the candidates has taken a well-documented anti-abortion, anti-contraception stand. Ron Paul's views on contraception are similar to Santorum's. In the past, Paul has introduced legislation giving states the right to outlaw selling contraceptives. And according to Friess, Santorum supports contraceptive use as long as it's in Africa for AIDS prevention. As a governor, Romney supported a mandate for contraceptive coverage and was lauded by the White House for doing so. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney noted the irony of Mitt Romney "criticizing the president for pursuing a policy that's virtually identical to the one that was in place when he was governor of Massachusetts."

The notion Americans and American women want contraceptive coverage continues to exceed the GOP realm of comprehension. Yesterday's congressional hearing debacle starring Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) was a phenomenal example. Democratic congressmembers lambasted Issa's conduct before walking out. The congressman held a hearing, again, not on reproductive rights, but religious liberty, which is why he was compelled to prevent law student Sandra Fluke from giving her testimony. Issa claims he did this on the basis she was not a member of the clergy. Fluke, a third-year law student, attends Georgetown, a Catholic university, where students have fought for years to have contraceptives included in their health coverage. Fluke's testimony was intended to illustrate contraceptives have medical uses outside of pregnancy prevention. Fluke's views are legitimate and show a great deal of intersection between religious and reproductive liberties. Rush Limbaugh argued in favor of Issa's decision, stating the hearing was really on "whether the [government] has the authority to mandate that anybody provide contraception to their employees, either free or for charge." See? This debate isn't about contraception at all.

However, what everyone should find most problematic are the actions of the women of the GOP. Outside of Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who have broken with their party, women Republicans have also decided to use religious freedom as shield for denying American women preventative healthcare. Several Republican congresswomen spoke at length on how they would fight the President and his attempts to force people of faith to "violate their conscience." They included Representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Sandy Adams (R-FL), Jean Schmidt (R-OH), Diane Black (R-TN), Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY) and Cynthia Lummus (R-WY). Each was adamant this was not a women's health issue and made sure to reiterate that talking point as often as possible. Representative Black stated, "She came to Washington because freedoms are being taken away." Yet, this group announced it is ready to go hand to hand with the President and Secretary Sebelius, in the name of religious liberty and the disenfranchisement of countless American women who would benefit from contraceptive access.

So who is right? Contraception has no bearing on sexual morality in as much as a man desiring to take Viagra (which is covered by insurance) doesn't make him a sexual deviant. It's a choice, and in America freedom is really about having the choice to make the best decision for you, your future, your family. Our political leaders' eagerness to make the health and wellbeing of American women a wedge issue will not bode well for the GOP when voters head to the ballot box. Reproductive liberty for American women should be as important as any other right we are guaranteed as Americans. At the end of the day, what women ultimately decide to do with our bodies should remain between us, our partners, our doctors, our God. This is the religious freedom we want.