In a big victory for American women, the White House today ensured that women will have access to free contraception in their insurance plans while it continued to protect religious liberty interests.
While today’s news is welcome, what’s stunning is that the importance of contraception for women’s health is still up for debate.
Last month, Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry told a conservative talk show host that contraception is “unrelated to the basic needs of health care” – probably news to the 99 percent of American women who use or have used birth control.
While Fortenberry put it more bluntly than most, his point is not unusual on the Right. Today at the Conservative Political Action Conference, presidential candidate Rick Santorum claimed that insurance shouldn’t pay for contraception at all, saying contraceptives are “things that are not really things you need insurance for.”
Even Mitt Romney, trying to burnish his right-wing credentials, claimed that efforts to make sure all American women have access to affordable contraception constituted an effort by “liberals across the country ... to impose their will on religious organizations and on the population at large.”
But this war on contraception is nothing new. As PFAW president Michael Keegan pointed out last week, both Romney and Santorum supported a House measure last year that would have eliminated federal funding to Planned Parenthood’s efforts to bring affordable contraception and reproductive health services to a million and a half American women. What’s more, the bill that the Planned Parenthood provision was added to would have eliminated the federal government’s entire reproductive health program.
Pundits are already rushing to score political winners and losers in the decision, but the real accomplishment in policy announced today is that it does right by two important values: protecting women’s health and respecting religious freedom.
As long as we’re still having a national conversation about whether women should have the same access to preventative care as men, the fight is far from over.