In their unflagging efforts to distance themselves from mainstream America, Republican leaders have gleefully seized upon a social issue that’s guaranteed to backfire in November:
If you’re mystified, you’re not alone. Ignoring years of public-opinion polls, the GOP is boldly marching backward into the 1960s to question whether contraception is a legitimate health-care benefit.
The target, as always, is President Obama. He issued an executive mandate requiring that free birth control be included in health plans provided to employees of schools, charities and hospitals connected to religiously affiliated institutions.
Although the mandate excludes churches, Roman Catholic bishops are in a huff, saying the contraception provision violates the First Amendment and “freedom of religion.”
Never mind that Obama softened the rule so that the insurance companies, not the employers, will pay for the coverage. Never mind that many employees served by these healthcare plans don’t share the same religion as the institute for whom they work.
Republican strategists see the controversy as another opportunity to bash Obama’s healthcare reforms, and also to rile up white Christian evangelicals who don’t like the president anyway.
As political miscalculations go, this one could be epic. If you’re looking for a sure way to galvanize female voters against your own party, attack birth control.
Whom does the administration’s mandate help? Teachers, secretaries, nurses, lab techs — working women who can’t afford, or don’t choose, to get pregnant.
Yet to hear the yowls of outrage, you’d think these hospitals and schools were being ordered to round up their workers and force-feed them birth-control pills against their will.
Leading the opposition are Catholic bishops, whose archaic dictums against contraception are widely disregarded by their own flock. According to most surveys, about 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use some type of birth control.