Vocal Catholic bishops and members of the religious right community want America to think that President Obama has launched an all out assault on religion with the announcement that employer-provided health insurance policies have to cover birth control without a co-pay. They’re yelling, stomping their feet and have taken to the airwaves to proclaim that Barack Obama is out to strip their First Amendment freedom of religion rights by forcing them to pay for contraceptives in violation of their beliefs.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
One of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act is that all employer-provided health insurance policies must cover prescription birth control for women at no added cost. A small carve-out is in place for churches, mosques and synagogues whose members believe that birth control is against their religious beliefs. That exception doesn’t apply to hospitals, universities or other employers who have a religious “affiliation.”
But did you know that that’s actually been the case since George W. Bush was president? It’s already against the law for employers to cut birth control coverage out of the plans they offer their employees, but the requirement hasn’t gotten a lot of attention — until now.
According to Mother Jones magazine:
In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies that provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn’t provide birth control were in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. That opinion, which the George W. Bush administration did nothing to alter or withdraw when it took office the next month, is still in effect today—and because it relies on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it applies to all employers with 15 or more employees. Employers that don’t offer prescription coverage or don’t offer insurance at all are exempt, because they treat men and women equally—but under the EEOC’s interpretation of the law, you can’t offer other preventative care coverage without offering birth control coverage, too.
So where has the religious outrage been since 2000? Did the bishops and extreme right just notice it on their to-do list? Or might it have something to do with trying to find whatever it takes to keep Barack Obama from winning re-election?
Karl Rove and his followers did it before and he’ll help do it again. That’s exactly how he got George W. Bush elected. Well, he had a little help from the Supreme Court, but Rove’s focus was to bang the drum so loudly that people who didn’t vote regularly — like one-issue religious voters — would be so scared they’d turn out for that one issue, putting his candidate over the top.
And this is where we are again, with a splintered Republican Party that thought it could beat Obama on the economy, now realizing it has to go back to the Rove 101 playbook if they have any chance to eke out a win.
About 98 percent of Catholic women want access to and use birth control even though it’s in violation of the church’s mandate. So why should they have to pay extra for it when their husbands’ Viagra is fully covered? Take a close look. Those opposing this effort (which the President is now stepping away from to stop to political bleeding) have even gone so far as to say they’d be exempt from the rules if they were just an individual Taco Bell owners who had a personal religious objection to birth control.
The dialing back on privacy rights is scary. First it was abortion. Now insurance-covered birth control. Did you know that the Supreme Court case that addresses birth control rights overturned a state law that said married couples could not have access to birth control regardless of how they paid for it? Yup. Married couples. Sounds a little crazy in 2012, doesn’t it? But with the growing effort to take away more of our constitutional privacy rights, don’t be surprised if you hear talk soon about whether we should be able to get the Pill or an IUD, or whether we all have to become Michelle Duggar. And after that? Watch out for attacks on the constitutional privacy right to interracial marriage. Even as we celebrate the ability of same-sex couples to now marry in California and Washington, don’t be surprised to see ballot initiatives to in conservative states to step-back on another right we all thought was settled law.