The following article originally was published March 16 by Grand Junction Free Press.
The birth-control mandate that forces insurance companies to provide “free” birth control is an extensive forced wealth transfer scheme, compelling everyone who doesn’t use birth control to pay for others to use it. It is blatantly unjust, violating the rights of women and men as consumers as well as the rights of religious organizations that condemn the use of birth control. So how is it that Republicans are losing the issue so spectacularly? How is it that the left so successfully paints the right as “anti-woman?”
Some have suggested that the Obama administration shoved the birth-control mandate down the throats of religious institutions specifically to get a rise out of Republicans. It was a conscious political strategy, in this view. Whether or not Democrats intended that result, they achieved it. The Democrats left the animal skins and clubs lying about, and many Republicans gleefully dressed the part of troglodyte.
Rather than clearly and consistently answer, “Women have every right to purchase and use birth control, but they don’t have the right to force others to pay for it,” Republicans managed to come up with a rather different set of claims. Consider:
• Rick Santorum said that birth control is “harmful to women” and “harmful to society.” Birth control is “not okay,” he added; it is “counter to how things are supposed to be” because sex should be “for purposes of procreation” and not “simply [for] pleasure.”
• When law student Sandra Fluke publicly endorsed the birth-control mandate, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” and suggested that she make sex tapes available. (He later apologized.)
• Newt Gingrich condemned “post conception birth control”—which notably can include the standard birth control pill—and endorsed banning it.
• Gingrich, Santorum, and Ron Paul all have supported the so-called “personhood” movement, which would totally ban all abortions from the moment of conception, ban the birth control pill, and ban standard types of in vitro fertility treatments.
The reason the left is able to paint the right as “anti-woman” is that there is more than a grain of truth to the claim.
The left successfully used the “anti-woman” tag in 2010 against Ken Buck, who lost the U.S. Senate race in Colorado. After Buck endorsed a “personhood” measure in Colorado (before backpedalling), Planned Parenthood ran ads proclaiming, “Colorado women can’t trust Ken Buck.”
Given the background debates, many voters found it easier to interpret even Buck’s innocuous comments in a sinister light. In response to the blatant gender-based attacks by his opponent Jane Norton, Buck joked that people should vote for him he doesn’t “wear high heals.” Attacking Buck over that comment was a cheap shot, but it was also a shot that Buck himself invited by entertaining the “personhood” agenda.
Now the Democrats are trying to beat the Republicans by “Ken Bucking” the lot of them. Democrats think that by winning the votes of independent women, they can win. And they’re probably right. As Rachel Maddow writes for the Washington Post, “Today’s Republican candidates are all Ken Buck now.” If Democrats can make the charge stick—and Republicans are making that all too easy—the Democrats win.
Unfortunately, rather than focus on individual rights, distracted Republicans allow the left to get away with various absurd lies about the mandate. One lie is that birth control paid through insurance is “free.” It is certainly not free for those forced to pay higher insurance premiums.
Another lie is that declining to force people who don’t use birth control to pay for others to use it somehow limits “access to birth control.” We think red wine is good for our hearts, but that doesn’t mean we should be able to force others to stock our wine cellars or that our “access” to red wine is limited if they don’t. There is a huge difference between having the freedom to buy something and having the “freedom” to help yourself to somebody else’s cash.
Yet another creative lie is that not forcing religious institutions to provide birth control would somehow impose “theocracy.” Every person, including those who join religious groups, properly has the freedom to voluntarily enter into contracts. Theocracy means imposing religious doctrines by force of law; the birth-control mandate imposes the comparable injustice of forcibly interfering with religious groups. (Of course, much of the controversy regarding religious groups arises from the phenomenon of employer-paid insurance, a relic of inane tax policies. But that is a separate discussion.)
The unfortunate fact is that neither the left nor the right defends the rights of individuals to control their own resources and bodies and contract by mutual consent. Where is the political leader who will take a pro-choice, pro-individual rights stand across the board?
Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari blogs at AriArmstrong.com in the Denver area.