The Other 99%: Will Obama Betray Them?

by Carole Joffe, University of California, RHRealityCheck

See all our coverage of the Birth Control Mandate 2011 here.

There is another 99 percent group in our country, distinct from but inextricably entwined with the now more familiar #99Percent, those everyday Americans, who–in such a brilliant framing by the Occupy Wall Street movement–are to varying degrees affected by the vast economic inequality that characterizes American society. I refer to the 99 percent of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse and have used a birth control method at least some of the time. (As per the original Centers for Disease Control report, this statistic only includes contraceptive use reported by women during heterosexual intercourse).

Contraception obviously is a deeply held value by American women. But the fact that in the United States a startling half of all pregnancies are unintended makes clear that birth control is used only sporadically by some. There are a number of reasons why this is so, but a chief one is that so many women cannot afford contraception, especially the most expensive—and most effective–methods, such as birth control pills, and long lasting reversible contraception, for example, the newer (and far safer) models of IUDs (intrauterine devices).  In short, the same economic disparities that pervade every other area of American life manifest here as well: poor women depend on publicly-funded programs for their contraceptive services, but, according to the Guttmacher Institute, only a little more than half of the 17 million women who need these services currently receive them.

This situation of tremendous inadequacy was supposed to improve considerably. In one of the best pieces of news in the otherwise embattled reproductive health world since the battles over health care reform began, the Obama administration announced last August that it would accept the recommendations of a special panel of the Institute of Medicine and include contraception—including all FDA-approved birth control methods—as part of the basic package of preventative health services that health insurance plans must offer, without co-payments.

Predictably, the August announcement has produced a massive campaign from opponents of contraception, especially the Catholic hierarchy. Though churches in fact have been granted an exemption from this requirement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its allies are pushing for much broader exemptions, for example  to universities, social service agencies and other institutions with a religious affiliation—even if these institutions receive public funding.  Such a move could potentially affect millions of women, of all religious backgrounds (or none), who work in such institutions.

My young friends who have been involved in the Occupy movement tell me that issues of reproductive justice have been muted, if evident at all, at the various Occupy sites. But as the occupiers put forward their vision of a just society, the old feminist dictum bears repeating: women cannot be full participants in any society unless they can control their fertility. The New York Times quotes the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reporting on a meeting with President Obama, as saying the latter “was very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community.”  President Obama, please be open as well to the tremendous struggles of women–members of both 99 Percent groups–who are desperate to control their childbearing in very harsh times.



These groups urge you to take action:

Catholics for Choice

National Women’s Law Center

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

Feminist Majority Foundation

Emily’s List

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

NARAL Pro-Choice America

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health



The Other 99%

by Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Action Fund

There’s not a lot we agree on in this country. And yet, there is one topic around which there is practically universal agreement: the right of women to access birth control.

That’s right — 99% of women in the U.S. who have been sexually active have used birth control. It’s used by women of every demographic, every geographic location, every income level — and every religious group.

So does it sound crazy that a small group of religious leaders and tea-party Republicans are fighting to eliminate women’s access to birth control?

But that’s exactly what’s happening. Right now in Washington, D.C., a small but influential group is lobbying the White House to prevent millions of women in America from having equal access to birth control under insurance plans. It seems as though having one of the highest unintended pregnancy rates, not to mention the highest teen pregnancy rate, among the world’s most developed countries isn’t enough — we’ve got to make it even harder for women to access family planning.

The dangerous proposal put forth by this vocal minority tries to take advantage of an unfair exemption crafted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that allows certain religious employers to opt out of the new federal requirement that insurance plans include birth control and other preventive services with no co-pay.

But here’s the thing: The HHS definition of “a “religious employer” applies to nonprofit organizations that have instilling religious values as their purpose and whose employees and clients share their religious tenets. In other words, religious institutions such as churches are already exempted.

But these lobbyists are trying to expand this definition to include religiously affiliated colleges, universities, medical schools, hospitals, social service organizations, schools, you name it — so that these organizations will be able to refuse birth control coverage for their employees as well. This, despite the fact that these institutions in large part neither employ nor serve individuals who share their religious beliefs. In fact, they are open to and serve the public.

The result of such an expansion would be nothing short of tragic for millions of Americans and their families. Nearly 800,000 people work at Catholic hospitals and there are approximately two million students and workers at universities that have a religious affiliation. This expansion would impact all of these individuals — as well as their dependents, denying them a benefit that finally makes an essential health care service affordable.

An expanded refusal policy for any organization claiming to be “religious” would amount to the single most damaging refusal provision around birth control ever implemented. In fact, it would set a standard as bad as or even worse than the refusal provision that George W. Bush put into place near the end of his administration — and that President Obama sensibly and swiftly dismantled.

In essence, this harmful and illogical measure would undermine the very purposes of the Affordable Care Act — eliminating discrimination in health care coverage and making sure all Americans have insurance coverage that meets their basic, preventive health needs. In fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has declared that the exclusion of insurance coverage for prescription contraceptive drugs and devices in an employer health plan that covers prescription drugs is sex discrimination.

An expanded refusal policy not only undermines a fundamental tenet of the Affordable Care Act — that every person in this country deserves a basic standard of health care coverage — it could set a devastating precedent that goes way beyond reproductive health care. Down the line, it could open the door to refusals to provide or cover any service that might be deemed to violate religious beliefs — whether it be a blood transfusion, condoms to prevent HIV transmission, end-of-life care, mental health services, or mere information about health care options.

Just last week, the voters of Mississippi overwhelmingly rejected a proposed “personhood” amendment, in large part because it would have prevented women from being able to access birth control. The American people support birth control, and American women use it. The beauty of birth control is if you don’t want or need it, you don’t have to use it. That’s a decision women can make perfectly well on their own, without the interference of government or religion. And that’s something on which we should all be able to agree.

Cross posted from the Huffington Post

Take Action: Don’t Let the Catholic Church Deny Birth Control Coverage to Millions


In August, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a ruling requiringall insurers to cover contraception without a co-pay starting next year. Good news for women, right? So it’s no surprise that those who have been pushing woman-unfriendly reproductive policy–namely the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops–are lobbying for exemptions. They want leeway not only to refuse to cover birth control for Catholic Church employees (which they are already free to do), but also to allow religiously-affiliated hospitals, charitable organizations, elementary schools, secondary schools, colleges and universities to refuse to cover birth control at no cost in their students and employee insurance plans.

One of the things that really galls about this–aside of course from the absurdity of denying women the right to make their own reproductive decisions–is that birth control is not just a contraceptive: The drug is used to treat a variety of conditions, from acne to cramps to migraines. In fact, just this week the Guttmacher Institute released a new report showing that women take the pill for a number of reasons not related to sex:

The study—based on U.S government data from the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG)—revealed that after pregnancy prevention (86%), the most common reasons women use the pill include reducing cramps or menstrual pain (31%); menstrual regulation, which for some women may help prevent migraines and other painful “side effects” of menstruation (28%); treatment of acne (14%); and treatment of endometriosis (4%). Additionally, it found that some 762,000 women who have never had sex use the pill, and they do so almost exclusively (99%) for noncontraceptive reasons.

So not only does the Catholic Church want to control women’s sex lives and reproduction, but they also want to make sure we continue to suffer from treatable pain and discomfort. I suppose in the minds of Catholic leaders, we just wouldn’t be women without that serpent biting at our heels. Catholic women, however, don’t seem to  agree: 77 percent of those surveyed support birth control with no copay.

Let’s not take this lying down: Please tell President Barack Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius not to give in to demands from the Conference of Catholic Bishops that would deny no-copay birth control coverage to millions of women.

Photo from Flickr user Starbooze under Creative Commons 2.0.

Cross posted from the Ms. Magazine blog

An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

by the National Organization for Women


The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I write to you on behalf of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the millions of women who need access to affordable birth control and will be eligible for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. As the Department of Health and Human Services finalizes regulations for implementation of women’s preventive services under the new law, I am alarmed by the full court press on your administration being mounted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other opponents of contraception. Most worrisome is the selfsatisfied comment of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who, after meeting privately with you last week, is reported to have “found the president of the United States to be very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community.”

But the fact is that the archbishop’s notion of the Catholic community’s “sensitivities” is wildly out of step with most Catholic women. In this country, about 99 percent of sexually-experienced people have used birth control, including Catholic women at 98 percent. A recent Hart Research Survey indicated that, “Americans, including Catholic Americans, resoundingly support the women’s preventative coverage benefit. 71 percent of voters, including 77 percent of Catholic women voters, in fact, support the requirement that health plans cover contraception at no-cost.”

Even if this inconvenient truth were otherwise, the USCCB has no business trying to force its extremist ideology on the women of the United States. Birth control is not only universally used in this country, it is a fundamental and constitutionally-protected right that no one — neither religious zealots nor politicians nor government agencies — may legitimately infringe. The bishops may wish you to use your presidential power to block women’s access to needed health care, but I urge you to do what is right.

Regrettably, HHS regulations already include a sweeping refusal clause allowing a broad swath of religious organizations to withhold coverage for needed contraception from their women employees. This clause should be eliminated, not expanded. It endangers the health and wellbeing of many women and their families, especially those with low to moderate incomes. For millions of women, contraception is crucial to family planning, allowing fewer unplanned pregnancies by letting women decide if and when they want to start a family and to appropriately space pregnancies.

Moreover, there is nothing in the HHS regulations requiring organizations to dispense birth control, or an individual to take it. The regulations merely require employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception with no co-payment, just as they do a host of other preventive measures like mammograms, cervical cancer screenings and the like.

The thousands of women who work for Catholic and other religious and quasi-religious institutions, no less than other women, deserve access to affordable health insurance coverage of birth control. Your administration should not override the sound medical advice from the Institute of Medicine about the reproductive health care needs of millions of women at the behest of religious extremists — and let’s be clear: When it comes to women’s reproductive health care needs, the USCCB is out of touch and out of bounds.

On behalf of the National Organization for Women, I hope you continue to prioritize women’s issues and firmly urge you to reject any and all refusal clauses and to approve final regulations that unconditionally support the full range of reproductive health care services for the women of this nation. As you are aware, it is educated women who have provided crucial support to your presidency and who have welcomed your singular effort to expand access to health insurance coverage — please do not let them down.

With best regards,

Terry O’Neill


Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

HERVotes Blog Carnival: Women v. the Bishops

by Kim Gandy, Feminist Majority Foundation

Welcome to the sixth #HERvotes blog carnival on the effort by the Catholic bishops to allow some institutions to refuse, under the Affordable Care Act, birth control coverage without co-pays to students and employees of  hospitals, universities, and other institutions, or other religious affiliated or connected institutions such as Catholic Charities.

Birth control coverage with no co-pays?  Without a doubt one of the most popular benefits of the Affordable Care Act, the preventive care provisions for women require nearly every health insurance provider to cover contraception without any cost sharing.

Until now.  Maybe.  Because there’s a full court press from the Conference of Catholic Bishops (yes, reportedly even the Archbishops are weighing in) pressuring the White House to dramatically expand this refusal clause.

The Catholic bishops want to exempt the health insurance of every religiously-connected or affiliated institution from this requirement, and millions of Americans would lose this benefit – students, teachers and staff at religiously-connected schools and universities; social workers, nurses, and other staff (and their families) at religiously-affiliated hospitals that employ thousands of people, huge organizations like Catholic Charities, and many more – regardless of the religious beliefs of those employees and students.

Although the pro-choice community opposed having any exemptions from contraceptive coverage, the guidelines issued by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius contained a narrow exemption that applied primarily to houses of worship.  But the bishops want more.  Much more.
If the bishops have their way, at least six million women with health insurance will lose this new contraceptive coverage benefit, for no reason other than where they work or go to school.

We must keep the Affordable Care Act strong, and preventive care for women is critical.

Join us by sharing the posts below on Facebook, Twitter (using the hashtag #HERvotes), and other social media.

If we spread the word far enough we can make sure the White House hears women’s voices as strongly as they are hearing from the bishops.

The blog posts below share more reasons why we need to take action now.  Happy reading and thanks for joining the fight to save contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act.

#HERvotes, a multi-organization campaign launched in August 2011, advocates women using our voices and votes to stop the attacks on the women’s movement’s major advances, many of which are at risk in the next election.  We are very excited HERvotes is growing in membership and reaching millions of people.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Birth Control Under Attack- Debra Ness, National Partnership for Women and Families

Losing My Religion: Catholic Bishops Attack Reproductive Rights, Hoping to Undermine Birth Control Coverage- Megan Kearns, Opinioness of the World

Don’t Boss My Birth Control- Amy Cotton, National Council of Jewish Women

Conservative Media Are Still Pretending That Catholics Don’t Support Insurance Coverage For Contraception- Marcus Feldman, Media Matters

President Obama: Don’t Cave in to Bishops- Say It Sister, NOW’s Blog for Equality

Fight Against an Expanded Religious Exemption that Denies Birth Control Coverage- Dren Asselmeier, Center for Inquiry on Campus

Latinas urge Obama Administration to Support Birth Control Access For All Women- Rebecca Pleitez, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Conscience Clause: Preserving Morality or Creating Immorality?- Liz Beaulac, National Women’s Law Center

Sad Reality: New President, Same Fight- Stephanie Drahan, National Women’s Law Center

Make the Promise of Preventative Care in the ACA Real for All Women- The Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health

Calling On President Obama to Demonstrate His Respect for Women- Amy Allina, Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need

The Catholic Church Wasn’t on My Ballot: What’s Next for President Obama and Birth Control - Abigail Collazo, Fem 2.0

What is So Wrong With Abstinence Education? – Kat Sabine – the Bitch in the house

Take Action: Don’t Let the Catholic Church Deny Birth Control Coverage to Millions – Holly L. Derr, Ms. Magazine

Is Obama Caving to Bishops out of Misplaced “Gratitude”? – Holly L. Derr, Ms. Magazine

The Other 99% – Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, blogging on Huffington Post

A Message About Birth Control from the 71% – Meghan Shalvoy, Feminist Majority Foundation

The Other 99%: Will Obama Betray Them? - Carole Joffe, RHRealityCheck

Washington Post’s Gerson Ignores Catholics’ Opinions To Accuse The Obama Administration Of “Anti-Catholic Bias“- M.F., Media Matters

Right-Wing Media Twist Pelosi’s “Conscience” Comment To Claim She “Bash[ed] Catholics”- C.R., Media Matters

Fox & Friends Hypes Gerson’s Op-Ed To Accuse Obama Of Being “Anti-Catholic”- Media Matters

Women’s Basic Health Coverage Is Not For Sale- Miri Cypers, Jewish Women International

Tell Obama to Protect Birth Control- Maureen Shaw, sherights

Tell President Obama All Women Need Affordable Birth Control- Judy Waxman, National Women’s Law Center

My Employer Shouldn’t Control My Contraception Decisions- Leila Abolfazli, National Women’s Law Center

 Blog Carnival: #HERVotes against the Bishops- Heather Prescott, Knitting Clio

Should Catholic Bishops Have the Right to Control Your Life?- Janet Hill, Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW)

An Open Letter to President Obama- National Organization for Women

Should Organized Religion Have More Rights Than Women?- Georgia Platts, Ms. Magazine


Check out the action petitions:

Catholics for Choice

National Women’s Law Center

Feminist Majority Foundation

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

NARAL Pro-Choice America

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

National Council of Jewish Women

Should Catholic Bishops Have The Right To Control Your Life?

By Janet Hill, Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), National CLUW Vice President (United Steelworkers)

Catholic bishops are pressuring the Obama administration to dilute the rule proposed by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to allow women access to birth control without paying out of pocket. There is a narrow exemption that allows religious nonprofits to opt out.  The bishops want to expand the exemption to cover schools, hospitals and social service agencies.

The solution to the problem is quite clear; the bishops can refuse to take birth control pills if offered to them.

While they have the best interests of the women employed at their hospitals, universities and social services agencies in mind, they can offer themselves and their employees paid child care leave and on-site child care.  Should they wish to treat themselves for the other health issues that birth control pills are used to treat they are free to do so.

The bishops seem to be lacking in support since Fordham University, Georgetown University, and DePaul University, for instance, all offer their employees’ health plans that cover contraception, as does Catholic Healthcare West, a large Catholic hospital system in California, Nevada and Arizona.

They seem to be lacking in support from their own parishioners since a survey by  the National Survey of Family Growth indicates that sexually active Catholic women older than 18 are just as likely to use birth control as non-Catholic sexually active women (99%)

The choice here is clear – offer contraception and if you don’t believe in it don’t use it!

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Personhood USA Spokesperson Admits Mississippi Amendment Would Affect Birth Control

By Virginia Chamlee, The Florida Independent

Despite past statements to the contrary, some “fetal personhood” supporters are now admitting that, if enacted, their legislation would likely not only outlaw abortion, but some forms of birth control, as well.

Supporters of Mississippi’s “personhood” bill have long argued that it would only outlaw abortion, but many critics say that the vague wording of Amendment 26 (which would give fertilized human eggs legal status) would likely outlaw birth control pills. Speaking with NPR’s Diane Rehm yesterday, Personhood spokesperson Walter Hoye stated that if birth control ends the life of a “human being,” it would indeed be impacted by the measure.

When asked if there were any restrictions on birth control included in the amendment, Hoye said “no… well, yes,” but added that some forms of birth control (including the morning-after pill) would be outlawed.

From NPR’s Diane Rehm Show:

Hoye: Any birth control that ends the life of a human being will be impacted by this measure.

Rehm: So that would then include the IUD [intra-uterine device]. What about the birth control pill?

Hoye: If that falls into the same category, yes.

Rehm: So you’re saying that the birth control pill could be considered as taking the life of a human being?

Hoye: I’m saying that once the egg and the oocyte come together and you have that single-celled embryo, at that point you have human life, you’ve got a human being and we’re taking the life of a human being with some forms of birth control and if birth control falls into that category, yes I am.

Hoye, who is the president of the Issues4Life Foundation (a group that has erected anti-abortion billboards aimed specifically at African-Americans) also told Rehm that in vitro fertilization would not be affected by the passage of the bill, despite objections to the contrary.

Later during the show, Suzanne Novak, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, argued that the passage of Amendment 26 would put women at risk for criminal prosecution if they suffered a miscarriage.

“If a woman, let’s say, has exercised too much, or gotten in a car accident, if her fertilized egg is considered a person and, for any reason, she was at fault, she could be prosecuted for initiating that miscarriage,” she said, citing a recent case in Iowa where a woman fell down a flight of stairs while pregnant, and was arrested and threatened with prosecution following a comment she made to medical personnel that led police to believe she had fallen intentionally.

Cross-posted with the Florida IndependentAll rights reserved. Please do not reprint without permission.

This post is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival on the Mississippi Personhood Amendment.

Why Mississippi’s ‘Personhood’ Measure Is a Threat to Women Everywhere

By Lauren Kalina, Advocates for Youth Intern

On November 8, the state of Mississippi will vote on ballot initiative 26, which will attempt to change the Mississippi constitution to define human life as beginning at conception. The actual text of the initiative is as follows:

Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”

For the women of Mississippi, this initiative would attempt to ban abortion, certain types of birth control as well as treatment for infertility and miscarriage. This is a major violation of a woman’s reproductive rights. Additionally, Initiative 26 could have many more far-reaching, unforseen legal and political implications.

Recently, many anti-choice presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, have come out in support of this life-threatening measure. Romney, like many other conservative politicians, seems to be confused about just how extreme Initiative 26 is. Here, you can watch Rachel Maddow set men straight about how birth control works.

Women’s access to birth control could be severly limited by Initiative 26 because this measure considers a fertilized egg as a human life. However, many forms of birth control prevents the implantation of fertilized eggs, therein creating a conflict. Maybe if our politicans had received better sex education they might understand this more thoroughly…

This vote on November 8th is of particular importance to Mississippians, but should be of great importance to women all over the country. According to CNN, Mississippi is the only state with a “personhood” initiative on the ballot this year. However, according to the CNN article, similar measures are being planned for next year in Florida, Montana and Ohio; and efforts in at least five other states are in the planning stages.

A yes vote on this measure would open the floodgates for more bills such as this to be introduced in other states. Mississippians for Healthy Families has created a coalition of organizations that oppose Initiative 26. The coalition includes: the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, The American College of Obstetrician Gynecologists and many more.

Regardless of where you live, you can help make a difference in the lives of women and families throughout Mississippi by donating today to the Vote No on 26 campaign. Your support will help the campaign’s grassroots efforts to prevent the passage of this harmful initiative.

Crossposted from Amplify Your Voice.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.