Calling On President Obama to Demonstrate His Respect for Women

by Amy Allina

President Obama likes to talk about the fact that he lives in a household of strong women.  When he does it, he seems genuinely pleased and proud to be able to talk about his daughters, his wife and his mother-in-law in those terms.  And as a feminist, it makes me happy that we have a president who respects women and takes pride in his association with strong women.

But I’m hearing rumors lately that the president may be about to announce a decision that fundamentally disrespects women.  Instead of standing strong in defense of contraceptive coverage – a provision of health reform that will help to make the promise of affordable access to the health care we need real for millions of women – the White House may be about to strip that promise away from some women.

It’s not just women’s health advocates, like me, who think that contraceptive coverage is good policy.  Medical experts from the Institute of Medicine reviewed the evidence and concluded that contraception is a proven and essential preventive health service for women.  Public opinion research shows that most people agree that insurance companies and employers should cover contraception without co-pays.

But there’s a narrow minority of religious leaders who don’t agree, and they’re pulling out all the stops to put pressure on the White House to let some employers play by different rules, denying women who work for those employers the coverage they need to lead healthy reproductive lives.  The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is calling for a broad exemption from the contraceptive coverage policy that would give employers the right to make health care decisions for the women who work for them.  That’s not respecting women – and it’s not what we expect from President Obama!

The consequences of allowing religiously affiliated employers to deny contraceptive coverage have become painfully apparent in some states in recent years. The president should listen to the voices of the women who have had to live with the results.

In Muskegon, MI, employees of secular Hackley Hospital lost their contraceptive coverage when the hospital became part of a Catholic healthcare system.  One nurse described the burden and anxiety that the coverage exclusion imposed on her family, and the desperate need they feel for help:

“We are just praying I don’t get pregnant until we can figure out how to get something. … My third pregnancy I lost twins. … I can’t go through more. It’s taken a toll on my marriage.”

Another woman noted that although the policy respects the religious view of her employer, it fails to respect her own views:

“If I have health insurance,” she said, “I should get birth control . . . why should I have to follow what they believe?”

The broader religious employer exemption being proposed would replicate these women’s experiences, nationwide.  President Obama, we’re calling on you to show your respect for ALL women – please, stand up for the contraceptive coverage policy that respects our right to make our own decisions about contraception.

Cross posted from Raising Women’s Voices

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