Over all, 63 percent of Americans said they supported the new federal requirement that private health insurance plans cover the cost of birth control, according to the survey of 1,519 Americans, conducted from Feb. 13 to Feb. 19 for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
While 8 in 10 Democrats said they supported requiring birth control coverage, only 4 in 10 Republicans did. Six in 10 people calling themselves independents voiced approval. Many Americans, in the survey and in independent interviews, expressed impatience with the focus on women’s reproductive issues in an era of economic distress.
As I've argued to conservative friends, the religious freedom issue is relatively trivial compared to the federal government deciding in its great wisdom that of all the procedures and medications that could be free of charge, including hay fever pills, Lipitor, and prostate cancer screening, the nod now goes to birth control and other women's health services.
What are the feds up to, anyway? One motive is equity. If women seem to be unduly advantaged under the Obama health care reform, perhaps it's because in the past they've been charged higher premiums than men and had to endure pregnancy being defined as a preexisting condition. Providing free birth control is in the insurance companies' interests as well, since contraception is cheaper than prenatal and obstetrics care during an unplanned pregnancy.
Far more important, the policy will reduce the number of abortions. The more birth control, the fewer abortions. Nothing could be more obvious, except to two powerful constituencies. The first is the Roman Catholic church, which in its absolutism equates never-pregnant with getting an abortion. In doing so, it facilitates more abortions, especially in the developing world. (The Protestant view of contraception runs the gamut.) A theologically sound way out of the thicket of Humanae Vitae, the 1968 papal encyclical on reproduction, is to compare the emotional condition of the parents when an abortion occurs vs. the moment of contraception. God can tell the difference between a fetus and a sperm and egg that are never formally introduced, and so can almost everyone else. Catholic women in the U.S. have figured it out for themselves, thereby writing smarter theology than the pope.
But understanding women's perspectives is not the Vatican's specialty, nor indeed Rush Limbaugh's, who viciously attacked a Georgetown law student, Sandra Fluke, who testified before Congress about a friend who lost an ovary because she couldn't get birth control. I'd like to think he'll get spanked for his 13-year-old's potty mouth -- at least a few lost advertisers. Critics are demanding that Republicans denounce him, but they probably won't*. He's powerful, because some people like what he says. On this issue, he's channeling the creepy vein of misogyny that lingers in our culture and crops up during debates over women's reproductive rights. Remember that women didn't even get the vote in the U.S. until 1920. Even today, some smile inwardly when Rush calls Sandra Fluke a whore.
So the second powerful constituency preventing a rational discussion of contraception is composed of ignoramuses and dufuses. That's why on this issue, which is all about reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions, I'm sorry to say that Big Brother knows best.
*After posting this, I learned that this morning Speaker of the House John Boehner released a statement saying that Limbaugh's comments about Sandra Fluke were "inappropriate." Carly Fiorina, last year's GOP candidate for the Senate in California, said they were "incendiary" and "distracting."