Insight News

Feb 13th

President Obama didn’t get it right on the birth control compromise

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obama-didnt-get-it-rightThis time I think President Obama got it wrong.  I understand why he made the compromise he did—to avoid a religious-inflamed political battle.  But I wished he hadn’t taken the road of compromise. In doing so, he’s done a disservice to women’s right to choose what happens to our bodies.

Right now, it feels like 1972 before the advent of Roe v. Wade.  This ruling by the Supreme Court overturned a Texas interpretation of abortion law and made abortions legal for women. But at the heart of Roe v. Wade was women’s right to choose what happens to their bodies as backed by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits government from enacting laws that infringe upon a person’s right to the pursuit of life, liberty and property.  “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Since the presidency of George W. Bush, and the introduction of his “faith-based” approach to leadership, government decisions and politics increasingly have been informed by politicians’ religious beliefs.  That is not to say that government should not be concerned with rule of law, ethics and justice—and even morality, especially when it comes to their personal conduct, but it should do so from a secular perspective, as provided for by the First Amendment.  But some of the faith-based beliefs that seem to be informing today’s politics are the same ones that considered slavery to be a good thing and supported the idea that a woman’s place was in the home and standing behind her man. In short, women were regarded as property and their bodies considered an object that others controlled and made decisions about.  During this period, women resorted to underground procedures that killed many of them, if they wished to terminate a pregnancy; and, of course, birth control was prohibited.

Eight years ago, 2004 to be exact, Catholic online columnist Matt Abbott advocated for people to vote against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry; his reason was that Kerry was a Catholic who was also pro-abortion and believed in women’s choice.  Abbott  wrote “…Voting for a pro-abortion candidate because of his or her support of abortion ‘rights’ would, according to assenting Catholic theologians, constitute a mortal sin.” Well, the “mortal sin” tenor of Abbott’s critique of Kerry is currently reflected in the Republicans’ criticisms of President Obama’s original policy to have employers (including religious ones who employ people not of their faith) include birth control in their insurance plan.

No one thinks it unreasonable that blood transfusions are paid for despite the fact that there are people such as Jehovah Witnesses who don’t believe in them.  No one is calling for this medical service to be deleted from insurance plans on the basis of religious freedom. 

No, something else is happening in our country today.  We are currently in a political climate in which there is a real push to return to a former state of existence.  It is one in which Blacks knew their place (generally behind Whites and politically and economically disenfranchised).  And women had few choices, and understood that their bodies belonged to the church and the men in their families.

National and international studies on the status of women provide concrete data to confirm that education and regulation of births are two factors that will improve the quality of life for women globally.

Denying women birth control, or making it less accessible, is an infringement upon women’s right to choose what happens to their bodies.  And, it is not up to the church or politicians to decide what is good for us as women.  In the past, when these institutions and segments of the society had the opportunity to do so, they blew it and the impacts of their decisions on women were often disastrous—we were economically, politically and sexually disenfranchised.

If more men would stand up for the rights of women and their right to choose, our country would be safer and stronger.  I understand why you did it President Obama, but I urge you not to compromise on any future policies that potentially erode the gains that women have achieved in the last three decades.  Today, it is an infringement on women’s right to choose what happens to our bodies, tomorrow it will be Blacks and all immigrants told to stand at the back of the bus.

The clock is ticking.  Everyone has a right to their faith.  But they do not have a right to shove their religious beliefs down my throat.  It may be time for feminists and those who believe in choice to rally around Wall Street, but with a more focused agenda—to prevent the erosion of women’s rights, especially those pertaining to our bodies.

For sure, this woman’s body will be voting in the forthcoming election and looking for the candidate who truly understands why the original drafters of the Constitution’s committed themselves to the need for a separation of church and state, and who also believes in a woman’s right to choose, regardless of her religious orientation.

© 2012 McClaurin Solutions

Irma McClaurin, PhD is the Culture and Education Editor for Insight News of Minneapolis.  She is an anthropologist and writer living in Raleigh, NC and a former university president.  ( (@mcclaurintweets)



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