RUSE: Obama mandate: Not a women’s issue

Few women, Catholic or otherwise, welcome intrusive government diktat

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When liberal women announce that something is a “women’s issue” or is an “attack on women’s rights,” too many members of the media dutifully fall in line.

Case in point: the recent debate over whether it is good for the federal government to mandate free birth control and abortion drugs in everyone’s health insurance, regardless of the objections of religious employers. Why is it not equally a debate about religious freedom, federalism, constitutionalism or even common sense and fair play? Conservative women oppose the mandate on these terms. We don’t play the gender card.

A recent CNN poll shows that Americans in general oppose President Obama’s mandate 50 percent to 44 percent, a spread outside the margin of error. Other polls show a statistical tie on the issue. When you single out drugs with abortifacient properties, support for the mandate drops even lower, to 38 percent, according to a Rasmussen report. Not surprisingly, strong support for the mandate is found in those who describe themselves as Democrats or liberals. (Each category shows 70 percent support, according to CNN.) It’s a left-right issue more than anything else.

Notice how Mr. Obama and his team at the White House repeat and repeat the formulaic phrase that women must “have access to contraceptive services.” But all women have access to contraception today, don’t they? There’s no law against birth-control drugs or devices, not one. Nor are there any laws against the sale of the abortion-inducing drugs that fall under the mandate, such as the drug “ella.” There are even reports that a college is putting abortion drugs in vending machines, God forbid.

Americans are, in fact, accessing contraception and abortion at record rates. The United States has nearly the highest prevalence of contraceptive use on the planet, according to United Nations statistics. The United States has the highest abortion rate in the Western world.

What about Catholics? Supporters of the mandate have made much of polls showing a high rate of contraception use among Catholics. The Guttmacher Institute says 98 percent. Contraception among Catholics is not news, and Guttmacher’s number is hotly disputed, but more important, it’s not relevant, except insofar as it shows Catholics need no help from Mr. Obama when it comes to contraception.

Even with poll numbers like that, liberals still have the nerve to frame it as a victim issue. Former New York Times editorial writer Maura Casey in the Hartford Currant calls on Catholic women to speak out. Contraceptive-using Catholics are the “Galileos” of our day, she writes, who must not be forced to speak in whispers any longer.

Please, spare us the narrative of the oppressed. The easiest possible thing to be today is a contracepting Catholic. The subject comes up only rarely, if at all, from church sources, and only ever as a proposition. The church can only propose the truth of its beliefs; it neither has nor desires the power to impose them on anyone. How easy, indeed, to decline the proposition. You can find plenty of Catholic friends who use contraceptives just like you, and your status as dissenter gains you the respect of the people who publish your morning paper, likely your doctor, all the intellectuals at your local university, and every starlet on stage and screen you’ve ever secretly admired. Being pro-contraception is like getting a big warm hug from every corner of the dominant culture.

It’s the Catholic women choosing to follow the church’s teaching on sexual morality who have the real challenge. We have to swim against the current, from how we date to how we live our married lives and how we raise our children. Yet the Catholic women friends in my circle do just that, and it’s not a small circle. I could name dozens of friends who do not use contraceptives and are not in the least bitter about it.

No, it’s not a victim issue, and it’s not a women’s issue, whatever Nancy Pelosi or Barbra Streisand may say. It’s not even a matter of competing rights. Americans who want contraception are free to get it. But forcing religious employers or their insurers to provide it is a federal power grab that does nothing but diminish freedom.

Cathy Ruse, legal fellow at the Family Research Council, was pro-life spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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