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War on Contraception Continues on the Hill, in the Pulpits, and in the States

After protests over the Obama administration’s mandate that religiously affiliated employers (including Catholic hospitals, schools, and universities) cover contraception in their health insurance plans with no co-pay, President Obama, along with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, announced an “accommodation” to the mandate. The President made it clear that he was not willing to compromise the health of those women who want access to contraceptives, and under the new rule, religious institutions with religious objections are allowed to opt-out of covering contraceptives, but the participating insurance company would be required to offer such coverage. The compromise was greeted warmly by many, including many Catholics, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops continued to cry foul.  The Catholic bishops and other religious leaders claimed the mandate infringed on their religious freedom and House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) called a hearing to discuss the contraception mandate. Two Democratic Representatives walked out of the hearing after their witness, a female law student from Georgetown, was not allowed to testify. Issa was also criticized for not including any female witnesses on the opening panel.

Meanwhile, women in Virginia and other states protested efforts by state legislators to require invasive ultrasound tests before women are allowed to terminate a pregnancy.  Women also protested the closing of family planning clinics in Texas. Leading GOP presidential candidates also came under fire for their efforts to eliminate Title X, the federal program that provides low-income women with improved access to family planning services.  Robert Walker, the President of the Population Institute, decried the attacks and urged more men to make their voices heard in the public debates on contraception and reproductive health.