Republicans Hand Democrats a Wedge Issue to Counter Abortion

Republicans are doing a great job marginalizing themselves by sticking up for employers’ “rights” to deny their employees birth control. More importantly, a stand against birth control access nullifies their advantage on one of America’s most divisive issues: abortion. Ezra Klein at WaPo:

(W)hen the conversation moves away from abortion to contraceptives – as it has this week – the intensity gap flips: A much larger segment of voters are willing to penalize a legislator who votes to defund family planning. That became apparent in polling that Democratic firm Lake Research Partners did earlier this year, which found that 40 percent of voters would be less likely to support a member of Congress who votes to defund family-planning programs. Just 22 percent would be more likely to support such a lawmaker.

That particular poll isn’t a perfect analogy for the current debate about the contraception mandate. But it speaks to something I’ve heard a lot in recent interviews with abortion right supporters: When the reproductive health debate moves away from abortion, it becomes easier to message and connect with voters. Unlike abortion rights, an issue that tends to split voters, most polls on contraceptives and birth control tend to find Americans solidly in support. That Lake Research poll I mentioned earlier found that 84 percent of Americans view family planning, including contraceptives, as basic health care. (Emphasis mine)

Remember, even the voters of Mississippi rejected personhood. When you tell pro-life women that their pills or IUDs will be illegal under an “abortion” law, support drops dramatically. If the GOP thought they could paint President Obama into an “anti-Christian” corner, then it’s a corner that contains a supermajority of American women.

For that matter, most of the White House’s “controversial” birth control policy has been in place for a decade, putting the Bushies and the Republican Senators who sponsored the Federal contraception mandate in that same corner. Republicans grandstanding on this issue in Congress should probably check their own health care plan as well:

Since 1998, every insurer participating in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) — including members of Congress — has had access to comprehensive contraceptive coverage, including emergency contraception, such as the morning after pill. Republican lawmakers now want to prevent access to the coverage they enjoy to employees of religious organizations who may not be of that religion or who disagree with anti-contraception doctrine (89 percent of Catholics say contraception decision should be theirs, not the church’s).

Whenever a Republican says the Constitution doesn’t include a right to privacy, remember they’re not just talking about Roe v Wade. The Supreme Court established privacy rights in Griswold v Connecticut by overturning a state ban on birth control. Not one major pro-life organization in the United States supports birth control access, so this is not hyperbole.

But it is a perfect wedge issue for Democrats, who have struggled with the abortion issue for years. Being a “pro-life Democrat” is no longer a workable solution in the teapublican age. Republicans have enforced a party purity on the issue, which means the entire GOP is vulnerable to this exploit. The whole party is picking up the torch of a conservatism straight out of the 1920s:

“Contraception is under attack in a way it really wasn’t in the past few years,” says Judy Waxman, the vice president for health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center. “In 2004, we could not find any group—the National Right to Life Committee, the Bush campaign, anyone—that would go on the record to say they’re opposed to birth control,” adds Elizabeth Shipp, the political director for NARAL Pro-Choice America. “We couldn’t find them in 2006 either, and in 2008 it was just fringe groups. In 2010, 2011, and this year, it’s just exploded.”

2008 was a nadir of culture war conservatism. Teapublicanism degenerated from fiscal tightfistedness into a great doubling-down on culture war issues by the right. As a result, this element of the pro-life movement has slipped from the background into the limelight. It was always there, driven mainly by the Catholic conservatives behind the pro-life movement and veiled by the “right-to-life” rhetoric of Protestant politics. Americans get to see it now, out loud and proud.

About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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