GOP-led resistance to Obamacare’s contraception coverage mandate is clearly out-of-step with the American public, 61 percent of whom believe that even religious employers should be required to cover contraception for their workers. And in fact, it turns out the right-wing opposition to robust family planning benefits would be too extreme even in the socially-conservative Islamic Republic of Iran.
Andrew Sullivan flagged an interview with author Alan Weisman, who described Iran as having one of the world’s best family-planning systems. The reason for its success? Widespread support for free contraception and family-planning services for all Iranians who want them, including from the current Supreme Leader and spiritual head Ayatollah Ali Khamenei:
[T]he present ayatollah, Khamenei, issued a fatwa saying there was nothing in the Qur’an against having an operation if you felt that you had enough children that you could take care of. Everything from condoms through pills, injections, tubal ligations, vasectomies, IUDs— everything was free, and everything was available in the farthest reaches of the country.
Weisman goes on to describe an Iranian OB/GYN who traveled across Iran’s small villages to provide birth control, perform vasectomies and tubal ligations, and give out condoms — all for free — to any Iranian who wanted her services. That’s a far cry from many American conservatives’ take on family planning.
Obamacare’s birth control benefit has helped 27 million American women afford STI screenings, domestic violence screenings, and birth control in the year since it went into effect. Nonetheless, Republican attorneys general in six states have vowed to keep fighting against this provision of the health reform law. And for-profit employers such as the Oklahoma-based arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby have also resisted it, claiming a religious objection to covering contraception. A federal judge recently ruled that Hobby Lobby would not have to adhere to the requirement, setting up a potential showdown with the Obama administration.
Many states with Republican leaders or legislatures have also used their opposition to abortion rights to shut down record numbers of family planning facilities in the last year. In Texas, an ongoing crusade to defund Planned Parenthood — 97 percent of whose actual services are not abortions, but rather preventative care like cancer screenings and birth control services for low-income women — is already compromising poorer women’s access to family planning services, and unintended births in the state are projected to rise.
Global human rights organizations certainly don’t endorse restrictions on family planning. The United Nations declared contraception to be a universal human right in 2012, noting that “legal, cultural and financial barriers to accessing contraception and other family planning measures are an infringement of women’s rights.”
After providing these robust family planning services for two decades, the Iranian government suddenly and unexpectedly reversed course in July of 2012, announcing that it would no longer fund the highly popular programs. The government claims it canceled the program in order to combat an aging population and to ensure that fertility rates are high enough to replace the segment of the population that dies each year. Critics say this approach is unlikely to achieve the Iranian government’s desired result.