1912? Or 2012? Access to birth control bitter topic of debate in America


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WASHINGTON - Anyone waking up from under a rock for the past few years might be understandably stunned to see the latest bitter debate that's dividing the United States of America, decades after the sexual revolution was fought and won by millions of bra-burning women.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/02/2012 (3892 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WASHINGTON – Anyone waking up from under a rock for the past few years might be understandably stunned to see the latest bitter debate that’s dividing the United States of America, decades after the sexual revolution was fought and won by millions of bra-burning women.

Birth control.

Angry Catholic leaders insist U.S. President Barack Obama has declared war on their religion with a new federal law that requires most employers to include contraceptives in their health insurance coverage to patients who want them.

Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the law, but Catholic hospitals and universities are not. The requirement doesn’t force doctors who object to contraceptives to prescribe them.

Obama administration officials insist the law’s intent is to protect the rights of employees who work for Catholic-owned institutions, many of whom are not Catholic.

Nonetheless Catholic bishops have called the rule an affront to religious freedom, one that violates the U-S Constitution. Their outrage is being echoed on the campaign trail by Republican presidential hopefuls.

Mitt Romney launched a petition on Monday against the mandate, calling it just the latest in a series of “attacks on religious liberty” by the administration.

“If you’ve had enough of the Obama administration’s attacks on religious liberty, stand with me and sign the petition,” the Mormon front-runner wrote on Twitter.

Obama’s re-election team was quick to hit back, saying Romney’s policies on health-care insurance when he was Massachusetts governor were “identical” to the Obama administration’s.

Romney is joined in his fury by freshman Catholic Newt Gingrich, who converted to the religion three years ago due to his third wife’s Catholicism, and Rick Santorum, himself an anti-birth control Catholic.

Even a Democratic senator has come out against the administration’s plan.

“Under our Constitution, religious organizations have the freedom to follow their beliefs, and government should honour that,” West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, in a tough re-election battle in the conservative state, said in a recent statement.

“The Obama administration’s position on this mandate is wrong and just doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m talking to my Democratic and Republican colleagues about any ways we can fight this misguided decision.”

And yet studies show the vast majority of Catholic women — like other American women — believe that birth control should be affordable and available.

Experts say there’s wide-ranging support for accessible birth control among Catholic voters. The majority of them personally use contraceptives, suggesting a wide divide between clergy and parishioners.

“This is not a question that the majority of Americans are concerned about, but the Catholic church has decided to draw a line in the sand,” Janet Shibley Hyde, a women’s studies professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, said in an interview Monday.

“They consider contraception a great moral evil, so they’re going to do everything they can to oppose paying for it, even if it’s for people who aren’t Catholic. It’s an outdated position when you consider the ethical issues at play; in places where people don’t have enough food, women should clearly have a choice over whether they have children.”

Even Pope Benedict, she points out, recently said condom use can be justified in some cases to help stop the spread of AIDS, the first time the Vatican has blinked on its long-held policy ban on contraceptives.

“It’s strange that there’s so much outrage from Catholic leaders about this issue,” Shibley Hyde added. “They weren’t so concerned when their priests were molesting little kids.”

The firestorm that erupted last week over the Susan J. Komen Foundation’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood at the urging of anti-abortion groups suggests many American women are getting fed up with incursions into hard-fought reproductive rights.

Komen reversed itself last week amid a public outcry when it announced it was cutting off about US$650,000 in breast-health services to Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood says 86 per cent of its services in 2010 involved access to birth control, prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and cancer screenings for low-income women; abortion accounted for just three per cent.

Obama administration officials are reportedly unconcerned the new birth control law could hurt the president in November’s election.

Those fuming about the new mandate weren’t likely to cast their ballots for Obama anyway, they say, and internal polling suggests any measures that make birth control more affordable and accessible are popular with American women from all walks of life.

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