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Is Birth Control a Governmental Issue?

The Republican Presidential primaries have taken a turn to social issues this month, with new controversy over religious institutions providing birth control on their insurance plans. Earlier, President Obama issued a new mandate that would require insurance providers to cover the costs of birth control if Catholic or other religious employers do not wish to include it on their plan. Naturally, this drew critical responses from all of the Republican candidates. However, the most outspoken was Rick Santorum, claiming that President Obama is waging a war on religious freedoms and trying to promote a “secular agenda.” Many agree with Mr. Santorum saying that the President’s mandate is unfair and requires religious institutions to practice methods that go against their religion.

There has been a larger response from women who feel they have not been represented in this debate. At a congressional hearing with religious authorities from multiple faiths, there were no female testimonies provided. Representative Darrell Issa (RCA) denied one female Georgetown Law Student, Sandra Fluke, the opportunity to speak at the hearing. This decision sparked a tremendous amount of backlash from women’s groups across the country. It was reported by CNN that Nancy Pelosi harshly criticized the hearing and is including Ms. Fluke as the sole witness at an all Democratic Policy Committee.

With women being an increasingly important electorate, it is puzzling to see the Republicans alienate them so greatly. Numbers citied in the President’s address on the issue indicated that nearly 99 percent of all women have relied on birth control at some point in their life. With numbers that large it may be unwise for candidates like Rick Santorum to essentially write off their interests. Also, with all of the talk by the candidates of sizing down the influence of government, they still are open to passing a law that keeps women and families from making their most personal decisions. So, government regulation is bad unless it’s upholding a narrow religious doctrine? In any state, it is dangerous when leaders use their position to cast their religious convictions on the citizens.

Seven states have already filed suit to fight the mandate. Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas have joined the suit. Whether or not the courts decide to reverse the mandate is another issue. With the Supreme Court ruling on the controversial Healthcare Law this summer, it may not even matter. According to Prelaw advisor and Political Science Professor Gregory Bordelon, it will be difficult to argue against the mandate, but there are strong arguments on both ends of the debate.

According to Professor Bordelon, “The issues before the courts under the Free Exercise Clause will be whether an exception should be granted to specific religious institutions or whether the mandate constitutes an incidental burden on a particular religious practice.” The states will have to prove that there is a clear cut violation of religious freedoms in accordance with contraception provision or show that it puts a burden on a specific religious practice.

However, Professor Bordelon goes on to point out that this may be a nonissue after the Supreme Court makes their ruling on the Healthcare Law this summer. “All of this should be looked at in the context of overreaching mandate issues of the Health Care Act before the Supreme Court this term. This specific issue could be moot in the political arena depending on how the Court rules this June.” The government may not have a basis to uphold the mandate if the Court rules a certain way this summer.

In a nation as developed as the United States, it is difficult to believe this argument is still at the forefront of national politics. Women’s reproductive rights and overall independence have been instrumental in securing a forward-thinking populous that values what is essential in a democracy: the acceptance of ideas other than your own.

A TIME article by Emily Rauhala reported on reproductive rights in the Philippines this week. In the country, all forms of birth control are prohibited. Women are “advised” to track their cycle and refrain from intercourse except when they are at their least fertile. Even condoms are prohibited. The article goes on to explain that due to this harsh crackdown, about 500,000 pregnancies result in abortion, and 60,000 women in the country are injured by unsafe abortions, while about 1,000 women are killed. These deaths and unsafe healthcare procedures are the result of a government indoctrinating their extreme religious agenda on the public.

America cannot share the same fate as the Philippines. The reproductive rights of all Americans are not something that can be regulated by the state. Lawren Rohling, a social work major said “I believe insurances should cover contraceptives. Not only is it used for the pure purpose of people having safe sex, it can be used for medical purposes.” The constitution protects religious liberties but it does not give those in power the authority to enforce their religious convictions on others. In our system of government, ideas must be accepted even if some do not agree with them. The current law allows for women to have the choice to have an abortion, not impose the choice on them. In this country, it must be recognized that any faith or belief cannot triumph over the private rights of the people.