In the continuing battle over funding for the Affordable Care Act, now focused on the contents of a Continuing Resolution necessary for the government to continue to run, women's healthcare has become the House GOP's new target.
When Senate Republicans were unable to save the amendment to defund Obamacare, despite Senator Ted Cruz' 21-hour filibuster, House Republicans again refused to pass a Continuing Resolution that did not attempt to weaken the Affordable Care Act. This time, the CR contains a one-year delay of the implementation of the ACA.
It is here that Representative Tim Huelskamp, R-KS, decided to make his stand against promiscuous ladies everywhere and the slow erosion of religious liberty by including language that allows any employer whose religious views do not support contraceptive use to opt out of the Affordable Care Act requirement that all health care plans provide birth control free of charge.
Because what is religious liberty if not the ability to impose your own religious beliefs on your employees' decisions about their bodies?
A little background for those just catching up: in 2011, the Obama administration announced that the Affordable Care Act would require all health insurance plans to provide preventative healthcare to women without a copay. When religious groups took them to task for infringing on their religious freedom by forcing them to provide medical services (through the provision of health insurance to employees) that went against their beliefs, the administration compromised in the form of an exclusion for "group health plans sponsored by religious employers."
Huelskamp's amendment to the CR takes this one step further. If any employer providing health insurance should feel that the use of contraceptives is contrary to his personal religious views, he can impose those views by not offering ACA-compliant insurance to his employees. Yes, because becoming the boss means you get to control the reproductive destinies of all of your uterus-having employees of child-bearing age.
Interestingly enough, the majority of Catholic and Protestant women in the United States find contraceptive use to fit just fine in their health decisions as practicing religious people. A whopping 89 percent of Catholic women who are sexually active, and 90 percent of their Protestant counterparts, use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. As a matter of fact, 99 percent of "sexually experienced religious women" have used some form of contraception in their lives. But this amendment isn't about the intersection of faith and reproductive healthcare for each individual woman according to her religious practice, which some might characterize as religious freedom. Instead, this is about the right of employers to decide who will have access to free contraceptive coverage based on their religious beliefs.
In Texas alone, there are over three million women in need of contraceptive services and supplies. In recognizing birth control as an integral piece of preventative health care, the Affordable Care Act is revolutionary in its support of women taking control of their reproductive lives as a part of a healthy lifestyle. In order for women to be fully engaged as members of society, to aspire to the same hopes and dreams as their male counterparts, they must be able to control when and if they become pregnant to the best of their ability. Birth control is preventative medicine and it is a part of a responsible attitude towards sexual health.
Whether or not this amendment will see the light of day (if Harry Reid has anything to say about it, it won't) does not matter nearly as much as the message the GOP is sending through it: Women's access to contraception as a part of preventative healthcare is not as important as the right of individuals to impose their religious beliefs on the women they employ.
And all of this comes at a time when the Republican party is doing its best to encourage diverse new candidates to run for office — especially women. It is really quite simple: Republicans want women to vote for GOP candidates, and they want some of those candidates to be women so they can improve their image. They think women should vote and they think women should run for office and are actively pursuing policies to increase engagement on both of those fronts. They just don't think any of those women should benefit from increased access to contraceptives unless their employer says it's OK first.