It’s been a roller coaster month for women’s health, and it’s not over yet.
Congressional Republicans and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops vow to continue their attacks on coverage for birth control. Most of us use birth control, including most Catholics. Well over half of all women who use birth control use it to manage other conditions–like endometriosis or to prevent ovarian cancer. And more than one in three women has difficulty affording birth control today.
The Administration decided to require coverage for contraception without co-payments and deductibles after a year and a half of scientific review and public debate over women’s preventive health benefits. Churches were excluded from the requirement, but religiously-based hospitals, universities and charities were included, as they already are in 28 states.
Today the President announced that while the coverage requirement will stand, providing economic protections to millions, religious employers will be able to stand removed from providing the coverage. Instead, insurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage at no additional cost, by contacting women directly. It remains to be seen whether the notoriously inefficient and miserly health insurance industry will succeed in making this a seamless experience for women employed at these institutions.
The Bishops’ attack and the Administration’s jiu-jitsu maneuver came a scant week after public outcry supporting Planned Parenthood after anti-choice leaders at the Komen Foundation threatened to cut funding for PP’s breast health care services.
How did this happen? More importantly, how can we stop it?
1. Recognize the real threat. The Bishops are organized and wealthy. They pushed out a virtually baseless but catchy campaign claiming that the contraception coverage rule violated religious freedom, and whipped up zealots in church services to generate 1200-1700 calls a day to vulnerable senators. They forged an alliance with the Catholic Health Association, both a large employer and a funder for many advocacy groups who might otherwise have spoken out. Extremist Republicans in Congress were and are only too happy to divert attention away from their own ineffectiveness on the economy. Next up: the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” a bill so broad it would exempt any business owner in the country from having to provide coverage.
2. Get organized! Breast cancer patients are linked and organized, partly through networks devised by Komen itself and Planned Parenthood. When the challenge came, they were on the case.
3. Take on the issue. We can win on birth control and abortion. Avoiding reproductive health, rights and justice will not be an option in the 2012 election.
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