(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Barring an unexpected last-minute jolt of sanity, at midnight tonight the federal government will shut down all but its most essential services. Despite the Senate passing a clean bill last week to continue funding the government, the Republican-led House early Sunday morning chose to forsake their basic responsibility to keep our country functioning, and instead used the impending shutdown as a last-ditch opportunity to delay the Affordable Care Act—the president’s signature bill that would insure millions of Americans unable to afford healthcare on the open market.
But if the Republicans’ single-minded obsession with delaying or repealing Obamacare isn’t enough partisan politics, an amendment they rammed through in the dark of night added language that would give bosses the power to decide whether women who work for them should have access to birth control through their healthcare coverage. (They had help from two anti-choice Democrats: Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina.) The combination of the two measures puts the budget bill back in the hands of the Democrat-controlled Senate, which will almost certainly strip out these outrageous provisions and send the bill back to the House, which has until midnight tonight to approve the measure or shut down the federal government.
Americans may be familiar with the Tea Party Republican’s obsession with crippling Obamacare before the insurance exchanges open tomorrow, October 1. What’s less known is their backward position that women’s birth control coverage—whether used for family planning or for medical necessity—should be decided by employers. Given that 99 percent of all women in this country use birth control at some point in their lives, this position puts anti-choice lawmakers not only outside the mainstream but in a different galaxy from the mainstream.
This is not new. In 2012, Senator Roy Blunt tried to pass similar language as part of a highway funding bill. The so-called “Blunt amendment” was stripped out by Senate Democrats then, but now it’s back as Republicans have decided that the budget fight is the perfect chance to renew their very real war on women.
Remember Republicans’ soul-searching after they lost big in 2012 thanks to the largest election gender gap in modern history? Apparently that search turned up empty, since the resolution they approved this weekend forces millions of American adult women to ask permission of their employers before they get their birth control pills covered in their health insurance like all other medications.
What’s more, the so-called “conscience clause” would also give employers control over coverage for pre-natal services. That’s right: these anti-choice legislators who claim to base their ideology on a “respect for life” want to take away from women the coverage that ensures healthy pregnancies. That’s not respecting life. It’s disrespecting women.
I’m not so sure this is a winning strategy for them. Case in point: the race for Virginia’s next governor. In the most widely watched campaign of 2013, Republican Ken Cuccinelli is losing the race to Democrat Terry McAuliffe among women by twenty-four points, according to a recent Washington Post poll. Much of this gap is driven by women aghast at Cuccinelli’s radical positions on choice, including his declaring “personhood” for all fertilized eggs, which would outlaw many forms of contraception and even in-vitro fertilization if taken to its full extreme. If Cuccinelli loses in November, it will be entirely because his radical positions are driving women to the polls to vote against him. Choice has become the issue in the race, and Cuccinelli has done everything in his power to hide his record.
Likewise, Republicans in Congress had better expect to pay a huge price in 2014 and beyond if they continue to pursue a radical agenda that attacks women. Yes, a huge part of the GOP caucus is elected from gerrymandered districts that reward extreme conservatism. But women—and in fact all Americans—are seeing more and more exactly what their party stands for. The more they pursue policies like the one that puts women’s family planning decisions in the hands of their employers, the more they drive themselves into the far fringe, a place they can expect to occupy for years to come if they don’t change tactics quickly. Americans want their elected officials to do their job and help our economy thrive, not play Daddy to grown women who are more than capable of making our own decisions.
But in the near term—the very near term—it’s the rest of Americans who will suffer the consequences of this anti-choice extremism and intransigence. The Republicans’s decision to pass a last-minute radical attack on women virtually guarantees a government shutdown tomorrow. That means troops see their paychecks delayed. It means national parks shut down. It means critical services come to an immediate halt.
Americans are not willing to live with this tradeoff. It’s time for anti-choice members of Congress to put extremism aside and do the job we sent them to Washington to do. As for the women whose lives they want to control, they’ll just have to let us make our own decisions. Hopefully they can learn to live with that.
John Nichols explains why the government shutdown is a powerful reminder of why DC should be a state.