Darrell Issa’s all-male contraception panel

Andrew Sullivan thinks that it’s ”hard to believe that the GOP has become so isolated from the American mainstream that they could not find and would not allow a single woman to testify in the Issa hearings today on contraception and religious freedom.” But is it? Is it really?

We’ve all been watching the Republican party deteriorate lo these past five, ten, twenty years. Should anything surprise us anymore?

I share Andrew’s flabbergastedness, even though I probably shouldn’t. One would think that after The Daily Show so effectively outed Sean Hannity’s own all-male contraception and religious freedom panel that the GOP leadership would be quick to change course but…well, let’s just say that women’s issues are not really the Republican Party’s forte. Best leave these things to the men.

Andrew writes:

Added to Santorum’s chief financial backer’s simply staggering and disgustingly sexist recommendation that the only birth control a woman should have is crossing her legs – with the implication that straight men have no responsibility for the matter – and we have really returned to the 1950s, as TPM has pointed out. But that’s who they are now backing: Santorum, the man who wants gays back in the closet and women in their 1950s reproductive place: beneath men without a condom, and denied an abortion thereafter.

Ah, the good ol’ days.

And of course, it will get worse before it gets better. All across the country, women’s access to healthcare is being threatened in one form or another. Virginia is just the latest in a long string of absurd moves by the right to expand government into the bedroom. Because government is only too big if it’s giving poor kids chicken nuggets. When it’s forcing women to have an ultrasound whether or not she wants one it’s no big deal at all.

This is not the right way to go about decreasing the rate of abortions. Universal access to healthcare, prioritizing education, and working toward prosperity for everyone will all lead to fewer abortions in the long run. Cultural and economic forces, not more prying authoritarianism, and yes contraception are more likely to slow the rate of abortion than forced ultrasounds.

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Santorum benefactor Foster Friess tells women to put an aspirin between their knees to use as contraception

I don’t know if Foster Friess, the billionaire supporter of Rick Santorum, is representative of all of Santorum’s supporters, but I get the feeling he is. Which is great, because if Santorum wins the nomination, that means that all Barack Obama has to do is role tape of this sort of bad crazy and he’s sure to win:

“Here we have millions of our fellow Americans unemployed. We have jihadist camps being set up in Latin America, which Rick has been warning about, and people seem to be so preoccupied with sex. I think it says something about our culture,” Friess said. “We maybe need a massive therapy session so we can concentrate on what the real issues are.”

He continued: “On this contraceptive thing, my Gosh it’s such [sic] inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”


Friess’s ties to Santorum go back a few years. He donated to Santorum’s miserable 2006 campaign to no avail. I think his money is going down the drain this time around, too, but it’s his money and if he’d rather spend it trying to prop up a losing candidate with seriously antiquated ideas about sexual equality, he’s welcome to it.

For that matter, the culture wars represent a losing battle for the right, regardless of the money they burn to wage them. It’s a question of dying ideas and the dying demographics who hold them. I’m all for keeping an eye to tradition, and making sure that as society evolves we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but part of evolution is to cut off limbs. If we’re to really grow as a culture and a people, we have to get past the notion that somehow women are inferior or that they shouldn’t have control over their own destiny. And we need to get beyond the idea that sex is icky, too.

For conservatives or people like me who actually do value a certain brand of conservatism, this means keeping an eye on how to run a properly limited government – not extend ourselves so far overseas, not fall too deep into debt waging wars and locking up nonviolent offenders. It means modesty instead of hubris. There is much to be said for a conservatism of doubt and a conservatism that urges caution and skepticism toward power. That’s not on display on the right anymore, but it isn’t to say that it couldn’t be. Certainly Ron Paul strikes me as the most tempermentally conservative presidential candidate we’ve seen come out of the GOP in a long time.

Over at Forbes I talk about why women ought to be allowed into combat, by the way, contra Santorum. If Israel can do it, so can America.

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Contraception is pretty damn important to a woman’s health


So our healthcare system is all screwed up for innumerable reasons like the fact that we have to get insurance from our employers. We have the whole thing rigged with middle-men and price controls and protectionism. On top of that it’s an unfair system that leaves too many people out in the cold. Maybe part of the problem here is the government getting involved in utterly ridiculous ways over the years – an ad hoc approach that has left a terrible tangle in its wake.

The other problem is that too many people think that we can get healthcare to people without government assistance, which I just don’t think is true. I’m fine with using markets to get the pricing mechanism working again, but I want the state to help people get basic access to care and to make sure nobody is without life-saving coverage and that nobody goes bankrupt.

It seems painfully obvious to me that a fundamental piece of a woman’s basic healthcare needs is her ability to have some modicum of control over her own body. Contraception is extremely important to many women (and their families) and having the ability to have access to contraception is a basic individual right in today’s world.

What about before there even was contraception? Well, women were much worse off in general back then, and the lack of an ability to have control over their own bodies was a big part of it (not long ago it was perfectly legal to rape your wife, for instance.) Women were also worse off before they had a right to vote – even when nobody had a right to vote. Rights are not always eternal. Sometimes they emerge with new systems of government, new notions about our humanity, new technologies. Sometimes people want to take them away.

In this day and age, we’ve basically put together a piecemeal social contract and a part of that contract is to protect individual rights. We’ve also agreed to protect religious freedom. Fortunately for religious freedom, nobody is forcing anybody to actually take contraception.

What’s happening in the current debate is that people are simply saying that the individual right of women is just as important as religious freedom. And as with something like the Civil Rights Act, these freedoms need to be weighed against one another to some degree. With the Civil Rights Act we decided that the right of all races to be treated equally in the public and private sector outweighed the right of white people to discriminate against black people. A similar debate is going on with regards to contraception.

The administration’s compromise in all of this was to tell insurance companies that they had to act in their own best interest and provide money-saving contraception to women. It’s a win for everybody even if the end result means that workers have one less thing that bosses can hold over their heads, and that the individual rights of women come before the rights of religious employers. Not everything can be a clean win. Not everyone is going to be happy. That’s just life.

I feel the same way about the ACA in general. It didn’t fix our problems with healthcare and it may make some of those problems more entrenched, but it does move us toward something a little bit more fair and it may eventually mean that workers won’t have to depend as much on their employers for health benefits. That’s a win in my book. When we can align worker rights and worker autonomy with individual rights I think we’re moving in the right direction.

Ditto that for sexual equality.



Every sperm is sacred

Now that death panels are a thing of the distant past, the real threat to liberty in this country is apparently the pill, something that we’ve had for over half a century and that a majority of us thought was a fairly settled debate. Of course, since the right is adamantly opposed to providing life-saving universal access to healthcare we instead get yet another front in the culture wars.

Now the administration has changed course in the right direction on the contraception mandate:

Today, the White House did the right thing for women, public health and human rights.  Despite deep concerns, including my own, based on what transpired in the past under health reform, the White House has decided on a plan to address the birth control mandate that will enable women to get contraceptive coverage directly through their insurance plans without having to buy a rider or a second plan, and without having to negotiate with or through religious entities or administrations that are hostile to primary reproductive health care, including but not limited to contraception.

Under this plan, every insurance company will be obligated to provide contraceptive coverage. Administration officials stated that a woman’s insurance company “will be required to reach out directly and offer her contraceptive care free of charge.  The religious institutions will not have to pay for it.”

This is the right move. A smart, effective way to get past the objections on the right. And it pushes us one tiny step closer to shedding employer coverage altogether.

Even before the changed policy, public opinion was squarely behind the administration:

A solid 56 percent majority of voters support the decision to require health plans to cover prescription birth control with no additional out-of-pocket fees, while only 37 percent are opposed. It’s particularly noteworthy that pivotal independent voters support this benefit by a 55/36 margin; in fact, a majority of voters in every racial, age, and religious category that we track express support. In particular, a 53 percent majority of Catholic voters, who were oversampled as part of this poll, favor the benefit, including fully 62 percent of Catholics who identify themselves as independents.

It will be interesting to see how Republicans respond to this latest move by the president. The reason it’s an issue at all is simple: just as the economy starts to heat up, Republicans panic and pick a fight over something bound to whip up the fervor of the angriest of culture warriors: no death panels this time, no, this time it’s contraception. But actually that’s not quite right either. That’s just a code word for abortion.

Of course, we’re not talking about a mandate to cover abortions, we’re talking about a mandate to cover birth control. Some people on the fringe of this debate equate the two, but a huge majority of Americans disagree. A majority of Catholics disagree, for that matter.

I think of the Affordable Care Act as the wrong law at the right time. Or the right law at the wrong time. I can’t quite decide. Either way, it’s a vast improvement over the status quo, and yet doubles down on one thing that I can’t stand about our healthcare system: employer-provided coverage. The problem with American healthcare isn’t too much government, it’s too many middle-men, and third-party coverage is the most glaring middle man of all.

The exchanges built into the new law are another story, mirroring systems in place in Germany and Switzerland. Germany is the economic powerhouse of Europe, and Switzerland is about as close to a libertarian paradise as anywhere on earth. Our healthcare law should, over time, push us toward something quite similar. Cries of socialism are particularly vapid given the countries in question.

The difference between here and everywhere else in the world is that in America everything revolves around the culture wars.

I don’t think the Republican party actually cares one bit about birth control. They’re just using the issue to obstruct the ACA at every turn. It’s silly, childish, and manipulative. That social conservatives don’t feel entirely burned and jaded by the GOP’s cynical politicization of their issues is telling. Social conservatives made a deal with the devil when they decided to use majority-rules democracy to further their goals, and now the piper must be paid. Diminishing returns on diminishing demographics.

I fully support the right for women (and everyone, for that matter) to have full, unfettered access to healthcare and birth control and preventative medicine. These things will save us money and make the country safer and more prosperous. A woman’s right to have control over her own body is sacrosanct as far as my conception of liberty is concerned. And women who don’t want to use contraception don’t have to. Nobody is forcing them to do anything.

The fact that employer’s provide insurance to their employees is profoundly stupid, an accident of history, a huge part of why we’re in the straits we’re in when it comes to our badly mangled healthcare system. This latest move by the president actually puts a dent in this system – it’s a victory both for women’s rights and crafting a smarter, more efficient, and more fair system of healthcare.

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