When the GOP attempts to deny women access to contraception in the lead-up to a government shutdown, it’s hard to see how the party hopes to regain women’s support.
Yesterday the federal government shut down for the first time in two decades due, in part, to the GOP’s growing opposition to contraception. Republicans are intent on rolling back women's rights, and this time they are holding the federal government hostage in an attempt to advance their agenda.
With less than a day until the government would shut it doors, House Republicans put forth a spending bill that would enable employers, universities, and health insurance companies to deny coverage for contraception based on moral or religious beliefs. The bill would delay the “contraceptive mandate” – an Affordable Care Act provision that requires coverage of contraceptive and reproductive health services without co-pays – until January 2015. More broadly, the bill would delay the implementation of most ACA provisions for another year and would repeal a tax central to the law’s financing. Of course, delaying the law by a year is simply an attempt to overturn it altogether. Even Mitt Romney, who as Governor of Massachusetts implemented the very health overhaul on which the ACA is modeled, said a delay is the most strategic path to repeal.
The past few years have been an exercise in Republican tenacity as the party attempts to sink Obama's landmark domestic policy achievement. The fact that Obama won a second term in a decisive victory and that the U.S. Congress passed Obamacare into law and the U.S. Supreme Court deemed it constitutional is apparently meaningless.
The GOP, hijacked by the right wing of its party, is redefining what it means to lose. Elizabeth Warren said it best on Sunday:
In a democracy, hostage tactics are the last resort for those who can’t win fights through elections, can’t win fights in Congress, can’t win fights for the presidency, and can’t win their fights in the courts. For this right wing minority, hostage-taking is all they have left: a last gasp for those who cannot cope with the realities of our democracy.
Since 2010, Republicans have voted 43 times to overturn the ACA. They have challenged the contraceptive mandate ad nauseam, have protested the employer mandate, and at the state level have refused to participate in the Medicaid expansion that would extend benefits to millions of uninsured, low-income individuals.
And President Obama, to the consternation of some on the left, has made concessions in hopes of advancing his overall agenda. Earlier this year, he compromised on the contraceptive mandate by enabling a broader group of self-defined faith-based organizations to qualify for a religious exemption, creating an accommodation where employees of those organizations can obtain full family planning coverage directly from insurance companies. He has responded to complaints from business lobbyists by agreeing to delay the employer mandate until 2015. (That provision requires employers with more than 50 full-time employees to offer affordable coverage for their workers, including children up to age 26.)
Republicans emphatically insist they are acting in the best interest of the American people. They aren’t. The ACA is good for women and for the entire nation. It has already expanded contraceptive coverage to millions of women, and within the next three years, approximately 13 million more uninsured women will be able to access affordable family planning and reproductive health services. The law will enable the majority of American women to access annual well-woman visits, screenings for cancer and STDs, maternal health care, emergency contraception, and pregnancy testing and counseling. Because of the ACA, individuals with pre-existing conditions will be able to get coverage and gender discrimination by insurance providers will be illegal. This law represents the most significant advancement in women’s reproductive health in nearly a century.
The unfolding debacle goes hand in hand with the reasons the GOP lost the women's vote in 2012 and is partly why they will not seize it back any time in the near future. Earlier this year, I wrote about the party’s self-reflective autopsy examining why and how Democrats carried the women’s vote by 36 points in the presidential election. They blamed their loss on a failed communications strategy but found little to be objectionable in the substance of their arguments. This week’s shutdown starkly illustrates the GOP’s inability to accept that the majority of Americans do not share their vision for the nation.
It’s becoming increasingly impossible for the GOP to argue that they care much at all about the women’s vote. Afterall, 69 percent of Republican women reported being opposed to a government shutdown, and 67 percent of registered voters believe that all workers should be allowed to access health care services regardless of their employer’s beliefs. And it turns out the only place contraception is controversial is in the halls of Congress; it is nearly universally accepted and used by Americans.
The GOP likes to say the "war on women" is a Democratic canard used to manipulate women at the voting booth. If only that were the case.
Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. She researches and writes about access to reproductive health care in the United States. You can follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.
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