The Komen turnaround and the White House’s “miraculous” accommodation on contraception both had the feel of movement victories for women—proof that the Republicans’ War on Women has sparked a potent outrage with political muscle.
On the heels of the Komen win, President Obama announced that insurance companies would have to pay for contraception coverage when a religious employer objects to providing it. As Nation columnist Katha Pollitt writes, it’s as if the administration “finally noticed that women out-number bishops.”
But as my inimitable colleague Pollitt also observes, “Women’s health is never just about women’s health, the well-being of the 52 percent of the population that spends around thirty years trying not to get pregnant.”
Almost on cue, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell announced that the GOP will pursue legislation permitting any employer to deny contraception in their health insurance plans. He said, “The fact that the White House thinks this is about contraception is the whole problem. This is about freedom of religion.”
Thank goodness Mitch is there to let women know when we are mistaking religious freedom for contraception.
And so the War on Women led by Republican men continues to rage. According to the Huffington Post, Republican Senator Roy Blunt is even using a transportation bill to try to amend the Affordable Care Act so that any employer can exclude any aspect of health coverage “by claiming that it violates their religious or moral convictions.” There might be a vote as soon as tomorrow.
In response to this ratcheting up of extremist attacks, women’s health advocates and activists will rely on the same kind of vigilance and activism that countered Komen and also defeated Mississippi’s Fetal Personhood Amendment this fall.
But women need something else too if pro-choicers are to move from defensive victories to making long-term progress on women’s health: the election of more pro-choice legislators in Congress who will have their backs. According to NARAL, staunch anti-choicers outnumber pro-choicers 46-40 in the Senate, and 246-155 in the House. In many state legislatures the picture is similarly bleak.