Democrats moved Saturday to make contraception an issue in the 2012 election by releasing a video attack-ad that portrays opposition to the White House’s proposed regulation of churches as a GOP-led effort to deny free contraception to all women.
The ad shows President Barack Obama speaking on Feb. 10 saying that his revised church regulation would ensure “the insurance company, not the [church-run] hospital, not the charity, will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without copays, and without hassles.”
The Democratic National Committee ad next shows a stark message on a black screen: “The Republicans want to take that right away … who do you think think should make decisions about contraception? You or your employer?”
The ad likely seeks to spur support for Obama among unmarried women. They lean Democratic, partly because of the Democrats’ support for federal aid. In contrast, married women lean Republican, partly because of Republican aid and applause for families.
The same message showed up on Obama’s campaign website, where a Feb. 10 headline described Obama’s Feb. 10 message as “Moving Forward with Contraceptive Coverage.”
The 70-second attack-ad came the day after a variety of religious groups decried Obama’s Feb. 10 announcement that he would require insurance companies to provide free contraceptive services and abortion-related drugs to the religious groups’ employees.
The announcement was a symbolic side-step by Obama around his controversial Jan. 20 regulation.
The regulation — which is based on the 2010 Obamacare health-sector law — said religious congregations would be fined by the state if they did not use their own money to buy services and drugs they abhor. Smaller churches that employ their own believers could be exempted from the requirement, after a federal review, the regulation said.
The new attack-ad marks a White House effort to exploit the resulting controversy.
The opposition to the regulation came from Catholic, evangelical, Baptist and Jewish denominations, civil-liberties groups, establishment media, plus most Republicans and some Democratic legislators. A Rasmussen poll, for example, showed that 65 percent of Catholics opposed Obama’s insurance directive to religious groups. That number matters because it could indicate much lower election-day support for Obama among Midwestern white Catholics and Southern Hispanic Catholics and evangelicals.
Under the Feb. 10 sidestep, Obama simply declared that the cost of the birth-control services would be zero, so religious groups would not have to pay for the services their insurance company would have to provide to their employees.
Many progressive organizations lauded the president’s semantics.The Washington Post, for example, described the maneuver as an “effort by the White House to walk a careful middle line that would retain the support of women’s groups and liberal lawmakers… while easing tensions with Catholic critics, who reacted with cautious optimism and even praise to the shift.”
The Catholic Church criticized the Feb. 10 announcement, saying it sidestepped their worries about the Jan. 20 regulation.
The opposition to the regulation is spurred by critics’ charges that it is a progressive effort to use the power of the state to regulate religious groups.
Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, which operates the largest chain of abortion clinics in the country, was repeatedly invited to lobby for the regulations at the White House in the months leading up the Jan. 20 announcement.
Democrats are trying to portray the church regulation as a health-care mandate and as a dispute between Obama and the Catholic bishops. This spin has been partly successful because many media outlets portray the dispute as an effort by the Catholic Church to curb contraception.
However, this portrayal hides the broad opposition among many religious groups to the federal directive, and it downplays the White House’s ideological and political calculations.
Those ideological priorities were highlighted in early February when a White House official said that they had no idea how many women would be aided by the requirement that churches pay for the contraceptive and birth-control services that some abhor.
Only a small proportion of American women work in church-run facilities that do not cover contraception and abortion services. Contraceptive services, however can be bought on the free market — there are few regulations limiting access — and the government also subsidizes birth-control services.
For example, the government spent $1.85 billion on Title X services in 2006, according to an August 2011 report by Planned Parenthood. Most of that spending is done via Medicare, which provides cheap or free contraceptives to poor women.
Critics’ skepticism of the White House’s motives were also boosted by the timing of the Jan 20 announcement that churches would have to pay for contraception and abortion-related drugs. The announcement came only two days before the Jan. 22 anti-abortion “March For Life” in Washington, D.C.