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War on Women?

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The contraception mandate provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or "Obamacare") went into effect this month with little fanfare, and will likely continue to receive little attention for some time, as the grandfathering of existing policies, as well as various exemptions from its provisions, make it far from universal and equally as far from a true resolution.

The mandate provides that eventually all insurance plans will pay the costs, in full, of all contraception coverage: all drugs, devices, and procedures, including the cost of birth control pills, injections, inserts, abortifacients, and sterilization procedures -- at no cost to the insured. There are no increased premiums, no co-pays, no deductibles, or any other mitigating costs. When the provision was first revealed earlier this year, it elicited tremendous outrage primarily from religious employers, who objected to being made to pay for goods and services contrary to their religious beliefs. Supporters of the provision countered that they wouldn't have to pay since insurance companies are legally obligated to bear the cost in full. However, most larger denominations self-insure, meaning they pay their employees' health care costs out of internal resources set aside for that purpose, and so have won temporary exemption from the provision as it undergoes legal review.

This issue escalated in recent weeks, when a for-profit private HVAC equipment manufacturer owned by a Catholic family that also self-insures, received a temporary injunction from a U.S. district judge against having to comply with the Aug. 1 mandate.

Supporters of the mandate have framed this action as a "War on Women." Is it?

Modern American feminists might be surprised to learn that the fight for women's rights was first lead primarily by Christians. In research collected in the Independent Institute book, Freedom, Feminism, and the State, leading female policy analysts examine Christian teachings of equality and the equitable endowment of inalienable rights for every individual. These were the principles women appealed to when spearheading the abolitionist movement, then later in the fight for equal rights for women following the Civil War.

Fast-forward 120 years, and we see that our foremothers' dreams have largely been achieved. Yet, there is a growing schism within the feminist movement between those who view natural rights as inherent and inalienable and those who seek government's bestowal of equal rights for women.

Does not the latter approach simply exchange the state for husband or father as the "protector" of women? Feminist Jean Bethke Elshtain warned, in the April 1982 issue of Democracy:

For feminists to discover in the state the new 'Mr. Right,' and to wed themselves thereby, for better or for worse, to a public identity inseparable from the exigencies of state power and policy would be a mistake.

Elshtain's concern is exemplified in the one-size-fits-all, mandated coverage that rescinds women's individual choices and invites the state into their doctors' offices -- where it has no business being.

In Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, Independent Institute Research Fellow and author John C. Goodman suggests this trend could reversed, by alternatively offering equality of tax treatment regardless of where insurance is obtained, freedom of choice in purchasing insurance, and the ability of the individual to own her own insurance policy, regardless of her continued employment by any given employer.

Unfortunately for women seeking contraceptive care delivered with dignity, privacy, and in accordance with their own choices, the mandate's prevention of these private care decisions will become increasingly problematic as the policy takes full effect in 2014.

Indeed, women are already seeing evidence of the invasive partisan posturing behind the issue, as the August passage of the mandate welcomed politicians' authority on women's healthcare.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now a self-appointed nursing czar, demanding that New York hospitals stop distributing the free samples of formula and bottles traditionally provided new mothers. Further, "any mother who requests formula will be given a lecture on why breastfeeding is better by hospital staff."

I am an admirer of the La Leche league, and applaud the fine, voluntary support they provide in helping women and babies in spreading the practice of nursing. However, not every mother can provide sufficiently for her baby naturally, and apparently Mr. Bloomberg is ignorant of this fact. Even if every woman could naturally and immediately provide fully for her child through nursing, isn't it a choice for her to make for her and her baby's individual circumstances, in consultation with knowledgeable and compassionate health professionals?

Now, Senator Tom Harkin is feeling free to demonstrate his tremendous familiarity with women's health issues by proclaiming, "I know a lot of young women who take [birth control pills] because their menstrual pains are so bad they get incapacitated."

Do women really want to watch issues of their bodies and contraceptive choices decided on the political battlefield? If so, they really will be in for a "War on Women."

Such issues are far better addressed and funded on an individualized basis rather than by government suits mandating that everyone's cost be 100 percent covered for every product and service. Shouldn't we be working to build a solution for those who don't have access to care, rather than an unsustainable one that subsidizes those of us fully able to pay for our own contraceptive needs?

Sadly it seems that soon, women will long for the good' ole days of the Nanny State, when we were subject only to controls on illicit drugs, tobacco, and fatty foods. We now have the specter of the Daddy State, where male politicians ignorant of the reproductive wonders of the female body dictate how women care for our infants and what forms of birth control are most suitable.

In an Obama reelection video, "Letters to the President: The Dreams of Our Daughters," a mother of two daughters decries that "the use of birth control has become controversial," and fervently declares "it's a woman's right to make decisions about her own body and her own life."

Women need to rediscover our rich heritage of freedom of conscience and the protection of our natural rights. Political mandates on our reproductive health are public policies, set by politicians, subject women to the whims of the state and reduce us to hostages of of bureaucratic legislation.

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