If you think the economy is the biggest issue facing America ahead of
November’s election you are wrong.
Contraception has become the latest battleground in healthcare debate. (Getty)
Right now, it is all about birth control.
President Obama last week announced a compromise on his health legislation that slightly turned around his previous stand that, as employers, religious organisations must pay for contraception for workers through employer-issued health insurance.
One of the more idiosyncratic features of the US healthcare system is that employers are the middlemen in offering health insurance options to employees. Thus, the Catholic Church led opposition to Obama’s directive, claiming exemption under the guise of “religious freedom”.
This effectively meant if you work for a Catholic-owned hospital, school, media organisation, whatever, your employer could deny you access to free contraception.
In response, and sensing a political fight he had to step around, Obama instead mandated insurance companies would be required to pick up the slack directly if an employer defaulted on their role.
It was all a technicality, based on principles, and another example why the US healthcare system is a mess.
The compromise was supported by some sections of the Catholic Church, not so much by others, and triumphantly hoisted as a major point of difference by a political right wing attempting to land points against Obama.
"We consider [birth control] an elective drug,” said Deirdre McQuade, a spokesperson for the Conference of Catholic Bishops during the debate’s early stages.
“Married women can practice periodic abstinence. Other women can abstain altogether. Not having sex doesn't make you sick.”
Republican candidate Rick Santorum, a Catholic, took his views even further: “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be”.
Mitt Romney called the pre-compromise bill an “assault on religion [that] will end if I'm president of the United States” adding it was “a real blow… to our friends in the Catholic faith.”
On the other side of the bed is the theory that this challenge is part of an on-going Republican “war” on contraception and women, taking an ideological battle beyond abortion rights right up to the nightstand.
If so, the issue highlights the clumsy 2012 Republican lack-of-strategy where ideology and pandering to extreme interest blinds common sense.
Rather than do harm, the divide has actually provided Obama with a clear platform to claim he’s supportive of women and their rights when his rivals may not be while his opponents have confused their understanding of whose rights they’re protecting.
Statistics suggest Obama has the backing of the wider population when ideology and practice meet. Studies reveal 99 percent of Americans have had sex (shock!) and 90 percent of them did so before marriage (double shock!).
In what appears to be late-breaking news for Republican Presidential candidates, this is all normal behaviour. Far more normal than abstinence. I’d also bet almost all of that pre-marital sex was not intended for procreative purposes. And that includes Catholics.
Read: A woman's boss is now involved in her sex life
Of course, this is all before we discuss the point that some contraceptives are not always used for “birth control” but often for broader women’s health and that erectile dysfunction medication often is covered by insurance.