Congressional Republicans held a hearing about birth control and religion last Thursday, and the take-away image from the gathering is a shot of the key witnesses: five middle-aged men representing various religious organizations.
Fairly or not, the spin coming out of the hearing was not about how religious institutions might be threatened by a federal requirement that employees be provided insurance coverage for contraceptives, which is what the committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, intended. Instead, the story became how women were left out of a discussion about birth control.
Republicans are trying hard to play this dispute to their advantage and win over religious voters, but they are not playing it smart. President Obama has already blunted most of the impact this issue might have among Catholic voters by compromising on the coverage requirement. As a result, Republicans do not seem to be gaining much traction with their accusations of an attack on religion, except among voters who are already on their side. But they are succeeding in scaring off independent females who are beginning to believe the real Republican agenda is to turn back the clock and limit access to contraceptives.
Rick Santorum’s various comments about the evils of contraception are doing nothing to dispel that suspicion. Nor is his recent statement that prenatal testing should not be paid for by health insurance plans. And it hardly helped when Santorum’s campaign sugar daddy, evangelical multimillionaire Foster Friess, joked that women could prevent pregnancies by holding a couple of aspirin pills between their knees.
Maybe among the rhetorical “American people” for whom conservative congressmen always claim to speak, birth control is a wicked thing that leads to promiscuity and wanton pleasure, but among the actual human beings who live in this country, contraceptives are more popular than apple pie.
Republicans should check their calendars and take note that the year is 2012, not 1912.