Rights, Rhetoric & Reality: The Future of Birth Control

Birth control is an interesting thing – an in recent years, appears to have burst into the political spotlight to a astounding degree. For instance, the US Department of Health and Human Services’ recent decision to overrule the FDA approval on the morning-after pill caused a stir. While the FDA approved the drug for over-the-counter sale for teenagers the ages of 12 to 17, the HHS decided that they would not allow the morning-after pill to hit the shelves. While this caused immediate controversy, it was just a sign of the birth control debates to come.

In recent months, the HHS mandate concerning contraception has made an even more violent debut. Birth control has moved beyond being ‘the pill’ as the politics around it have developed their own rhetoric. Some call the debates and exemptions a ‘war on women.’ Some call the mandate religious persecution. Names have been called, and the lines of etiquette and civility were crossed as Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” on national radio. The uproar started with the original mandate, which required all employers to offer free birth control to all female employees. Churches were one key exemption, yet as the Catholic Church quickly pointed out, this exemption did not cover Catholic-run organizations. Catholic hospitals, universities, schools, and charities would have to comply with the mandate in direct opposition to the Vatican, which currently considers birth control immoral. Under pressure, Obama was quick to compromise. He allowed church-run organizations to be part of the exemption, but promised that women would still have access to free birth control through their insurer.

The uproar continued. Many women and liberals stood by the mandate, demanding birth control coverage for all despite the circumstances. On the other side, the Catholic Church does not consider the compromise to be enough In a testimony before the Committee of Oversight and Government Reform, Bishop William Lori of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops called for the nation to remain “committed to religious liberty and diversity,” arguing that many Catholic groups have their own Catholic insurers and that the Catholic institutions would still be the one footing the bill for ‘free’ birth control.

It appears the true divide of this issue is not focused on a war on women or the Catholic Church. Rather, it is an example of personal and religious liberty butting heads on a national level. In reality, each group does feel threatened by possible exemptions and compromises. In reality, both groups have rights. Women should have the right to take birth control if they chose, and the Catholic Church should not be forced to go against their beliefs. Compromising rights is a more grievous offense than compromising budget plans, and solutions seem to be far from simple. How the government protects both individual and religious rights in the future is uncertain, and is a question that extends beyond the current contraception arguments.

This article was originally written by Alison Shanahan in the Spring of 2012.

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