Wineke: Opposition To Contraception Surprising Political Issue

By Bill Wineke Special To Channel 3000

Think back just a few weeks: Did you, even in your wildest imagination, think that the major issue of presidential politics would turn out to be birth control?

Oh, I know, we are not supposed to be talking about birth control, we are supposed to be talking about freedom of religion.

But the fact is that the position of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops, endorsed, seemingly, by all the leaders of the Republican Party, is that it is immoral for health insurance policies to cover contraception.

It started out a few weeks ago when the Obama administration attempted to find a safe ground between the demands of the new health insurance reform act that all policies provide free coverage for contraception except for those agencies directly controlled by religious bodies and the demands of the bishops that Catholic institutions not be bound by such restrictions, no matter who actually controls them.

Now, the federal requirements are actually fairly more lenient than those already in place in Wisconsin but the well-orchestrated church response defined the whole effort as a new draconian federal attempt to take over religion and bend it to the will of the government.

It became a question of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, though, I might point out, those embracing those high goals have not heretofore been seen as advocates of free consciences; they have done everything in their power to make sure that women of child-bearing age do not, in fact, exercise freedom of conscience when it comes to abortion.

And, when the administration offered a compromise, liberal Catholics, including representatives of the major hospital and health care agencies immediately endorsed it. But the bishops and presidential candidates Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum, plus the Republican leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate didn’t.

They didn’t want a compromise, they want a victory. And the victory they want is to end the free contraceptives mandate, not just for Catholic hospitals and universities but for any business owned by a Catholic, public or private.

Should they win that battle, then all those programs in 28 states, including Wisconsin, that mandate contraceptive coverage will start to topple.

But the question is always, whose conscience is being trampled here? The conscience of clerics or the conscience of those they purport to lead but who, in practice, pay no attention at all to that leadership?

Here’s what we do know: All the Republican candidates for president say they will work to make abortion illegal and, this year, they have pretty much promised to do so in every case, even if continuing a pregnancy risks the life of the mother.

Now, they’re all ganging up on contraception.

I know, I know. It is about freedom of religion. But here’s the deal: when someone says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money. When a presidential candidate says its not about contraception, it’s about contraception.

I get that. What I don’t get is how opposition to contraception has, in the year 2012, once more become a political issue.