Komen fight opens door to election showdown on women's rights

The issues of abortion, birth control, and women's rights could play large in the presidential and Senate contests, including in Washington.

President Obama delivers the 2012 State of the Union address to Congress.

President Obama delivers the 2012 State of the Union address to Congress. Pete Souza/White House

Mitt Romney at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

Mitt Romney at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC)

Almost without warning, the explosive issues of sex, birth control, and abortion are thrown like cluster bombs into the 2012 presidential election. We may be in for a gender war centered on women’s rights on top of all the divisions we already face.

We’ve been building for that since 1972 and the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision making abortion legal nationwide, with limitations. That was also the year that saw the start of a 10-year effort to put a gender-based equal-rights amendment into the Constitution. It fell three states short of the necessary 38 needed for passage.

None of the combatants in either of those 40-year-old battles have forgotten the intensity of the combat, but for many young women the topic scarcely causes a glance from their cell phone. That may be changing.

Consider that already this month, big headlines surround these sensitive issues. The Susan G. Komen Foundation made a big boo-boo by cutting its funding support for Planned Parenthood, the iconic name in women’s health and reproductive freedom. Before the pink ribbons could hit the wastebasket at Planned Parenthood, an anti-Komen backlash brought Planned Parenthood $3 million in contributions in just three days and forced Komen’s leadership to backtrack — at least for now — and resume its funding.

It may be a sign of what will be seen not just in the presidential race but also in congressional contests, even in the Pacific Northwest. In December, a Republican challenger, state State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, criticized U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell for her position disputing an Obama administration decision against making emergency contraception pills available behind pharmacy counters to girls 16 and younger.

The Komen affair gave legs to a dispute between the Catholic Church and the Obama Administration on how to interpret the Affordable Health Care Act (aka Obamacare) in terms of what must be covered by health insurance under the new law. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, declared that religious organizations — with some rather narrow exceptions — must provide employees with health insurance that includes family planning prescriptions and procedures.

The 2010 health care law says insurers must cover “preventive health services” and cannot charge for them. The new rule, as summarized by the New York Times, “interprets this mandate. It requires coverage of the full range of contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Among the drugs and devices that must be covered are emergency contraceptives including pills known as ella and Plan B. The rule also requires coverage of sterilization procedures for women without co-payments or deductibles.” Sebelius’ Jan. 20 ruling had been running below the radar in the mainstream media but, suddenly, pundits of all stripes were talking about it.

Even the normally mild-mannered liberal Mark Shields erupted on the PBS News Hour on Friday, blasting the president for an insensitive tin ear toward the Catholic hierarchy. Liberal columnist E.J. Dionne voiced a similar opinion. Obama, said Dionne, left “hanging out to dry” Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association, a critical ally in passing the Affordable Health Care Act. Shields and Dionne are Catholics, as is Secretary Sebelius.

Immediately, the question is whether the president, like Komen Founder Nancy Brinker, may find refuge in a strategic retreat. Obama needs Catholic votes in November, just as Komen needs support from feminists.

Then again, maybe it would be a good time to have it out over the matter of equal rights for women vs. the right to life (whenever life is deemed to begin), because the 2012 election could be of huge importance on this front.

The present Supreme Court appears to have a 5-4 majority in favor of further limiting abortion rights and perhaps even the right to universal access to family planning. A Republican win in November could nail the lid shut on that 5-4 margin, which assumes that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court’s elastic man, reverses some earlier positions and votes to overturn Roe v. Wade or limit it enough to make it irrelevant. Kennedy voted to uphold the heart of Roe v. Wade in a 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v Casey, but with the shift to a more conservative court Kennedy has moved increasingly toward overturning Roe v. Wade.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Feb 7, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Nancy Brinker was the inspiration, but not the founder of Komen (Big Pink).

Her brother was the founder.

Second, those who would batter a private charity for Komen for having a policy to remove funding for a time when an org was under investigation reminds me of a persistent panhandler downtown.

Follows you down the street, yelling "you gave me money yesterday, so you have to give me more today". Not a bit of difference between the persistent panhandler and PP, sayeth the Geez.

Geezer

Posted Tue, Feb 7, 12:57 p.m. Inappropriate

I find it pretty pathetic that the Catholic Church, in which I was raised, feels so little confidence in the sufficiency of its own rules, and the faith of its congregants, to control womens' choices about their own bodies that its bishops feel they must resort to secular law for control.

I left Catholicism in part because the Church appears to consider women as less than men in so very many ways, and because I had a believing mother who, together with my Dad, had many more children than both of them together could provide for because she followed Catholicism's views on birth control and the rhythm method didn't work for her. Every one of the many children Mom bore suffered deprivation and still bears the scars.

The bishops' resort to pressure for secular law to enforce the Church's position says plenty about what even Catholic women will do to defy the Church. It's a bully's position, and the bishops would be better served policing themselves and leaving us women to our personal relationships with God.

The Komen backlash looks to me like proof that women will rise up when sufficiently outraged. Maybe this is the concern. I hope not to see an attack on abortion rights from any Supreme Court ever, however, maybe it will take that for us women to rise and settle it.

For those out there who think you are entitled to impose your religious beliefs on us, I suggest you examine and perfect your own lives first. That should keep the rest of us safe from your self-righteousness.

mspat

Posted Tue, Feb 7, 3:53 p.m. Inappropriate

The central question here is whether the federal government can compel private organizations to engage in activities which those organizations consider immoral. I don't agree with the Pope that birth control is immoral, but neither do I believe that I have the right to settle that argument with him at the point of a gun.

...And ultimately, that's the method the federal government employs to win an argument.

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Feb 7, 4:05 p.m. Inappropriate

"Second, those who would batter a private charity for Komen for having a policy to remove funding for a time when an org was under investigation reminds me of a persistent panhandler downtown."

When organization as large and influential as Komen drafts a policy that precludes a current grant recipient from receiving (or even applying) for future funds, then supporters of Komen should expect said policy to be applied in a consistent way. Planned Parenthood was the only grant recipient swept up in this. Penn State University receives funds from Komen and is indeed under investigation for failing to report child sexual abuse and was it a target of this policy? Nope. The Komen Board has only itself to blame for the controversy. Women and men were outraged and Komen has paid dearly for that.

This same Catholic Church protected pedophiles for decades. And now it is squealing about having to provide contraception as part of their insurance benefits to employees of Catholic affliliated institutions? These are not employees of any Arch Diocese - they are specifically exempted. This mostly hospitals and colleges many of which already provide this coverage. Give me a break!

Margie

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