Abortion Foes Claim New Birth Control Coverage Benefit Is Religious Persecution

Conservatives have been up in arms ever since the Obama administration announced that all health insurers will be required to cover birth control and other women’s health services without charging co-pays. GOP Rep. Steve King (IA) warned that free birth control would make America a “dying civilization,” while Fox contributors mused that it was a liberal conspiracy to “eradicate the poor,” and chided women who use it to just “stop having irresponsible sex.”

Now some Republicans and religious groups have adopted a new meme for attacking government subsidized birth control, claiming it’s religious persecution against Christians. The Catholic bishops, “one of this country’s largest and well funded lobby groups,” say that the birth control mandate violates Church teaching, and Fox News has gleefully picked up the argument. Fox hosts Steve Doocy and Neil Cavuto ran segments with titles like “Anti-Catholic Administration? Critics Complain About Admin’s Policies” — disguising conservatives’ assault on women’s rights as a matter of religious freedom.

That’s despite the fact that the administration included a “conscience clause” to the new rule — essentially a caveat allowing “religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services.” The provision mirrors the most common exemption in the 28 states that already require employers to offer contraceptive coverage if they cover other prescription drugs and devices.

It’s a bit hard to follow the logic of religious groups that say non-Church members using birth control somehow infringes on Christians’ rights or to believe that religious organizations are terribly oppressed in more than half of the nation. Providing access to safe, effective contraception is actually the best thing government could do to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions. But some Christian groups believe that birth control is tantamount to abortion and have been pushing to have it criminalized through “personhood” legislation.

Disappointingly, the Obama administration is considering caving to the demands of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other far right religious groups that want him to significantly expand the exemption to include all religiously affiliated entities and potentially deny affordable contraception to the millions of women who are employed by these organizations.

An overwhelming majority of Americans — 78 percent — support government subsidized birth control and almost 99 percent of women rely on it (in fact, just 2 percent of sexually active Catholic women have not used some form of modern contraception). Yet the line of attack conservatives have chosen illustrates their habit of making themselves the victims of the story, instead of the people aggressively trying to impose their religious doctrine onto others and constrain women’s choices.