It’s an argument that resonates among young people on campuses like ours. But the liberal spin is preposterous hyperbole. The confusion stems from President Obama’s expert use of a classic liberal trick: Take an extreme position, wait for the opposition to respond, and use clever rhetoric to monopolize the debate by distorting that response beyond all recognition.
First, the original extreme position taken by the Obama administration: By executive fiat, all employers — including religious institutions like Catholic hospitals — shall be required by law to provide free coverage for contraceptives and chemical abortifacients in the health care plans offered to employees. (The administration offered the religious institutions a ruse of an “accommodation” by declaring that the contraceptives would be paid for by the insurance companies, not the employers themselves. But with employers still forced to purchase the insurance in question and certain to bear the costs indirectly, this accounting trick did little to correct the administration’s imposition.) No exceptions were made for conscience or religious conviction; the secular liberal ethic now supersedes religious liberty.
The reasonable and commendable response from the right? No way. Let people make their own decisions about birth control, but don’t force churches and other employers to play a direct role in assisting them.
Finally, the distortion: In protecting the Catholic Church’s right to refuse to subsidize its employees’ contraception, the Republican Party is conspiring to limit access to the pill. It’s a clever tactic. Conflate the GOP’s well-known desire to limit access to abortion with a hypothesized position against legalized birth control, and you have a surefire winning issue among some voters depending on their gullibility.
The problem is that it’s just not an honest way to frame the issue.
Never — never — has Mitt Romney expressed any interest in banning the pill or allowing employers to decide which drugs employees can and cannot buy with their own money. Nor has he argued for intervention to prevent willing insurers and employers from covering birth control. Not even Rick Santorum, the Romney opponent known foremost for his conservative social views, advocated anything close to a ban on the pill (though liberals and the media sought to tie that position to him based on his personal moral views and his objections to the Supreme Court’s infamous legal reasoning in Griswold v. Connecticut). The only definition of “access” that makes the Democrats’ allegation true holds that one lacks access to any product — no matter how cheap — if it is not subsidized by others.
Here’s what Mitt Romney and the Republican Party actually do believe: People should be free to make decisions about birth control for themselves. Want to use contraception? Go ahead. Pay $9 at Target for generic Ortho Tri-Cyclen or more out of your own pocket depending on your particular needs. If you really want insurance to pay, find an employer willing to cover it. But privacy runs two ways. If you’re offended by the prospect of the government exercising its power to stand between you and the pill, don’t expect the state to coerce employers and religious institutions into purchasing it for you.
The irony of all this distortion and small-ball debate over “limited access” to contraception is that framed properly, this issue actually puts the more important contrast between the two parties into sharper relief. One party — I’ll let you guess which one — believes that employers and the government should make fundamental health care decisions for individuals by requiring them to purchase insurance and determining which essential services must be covered by all plans. The other — guess again! — actually believes in putting Americans at the center of their own health care decisions rather than giving more control to those farthest removed from citizens’ lives. One party believes that rights are positive — that they encompass whatever the government deigns to provide for us. The other believes that rights are negative — that they are protections from government, not goodies handed out by government.
The distinction between these two visions is the big difference between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. More than anything else, this is the contrast that should determine our votes.
One would hope that Princeton students would be able to see past the diversionary tactics in casting their ballots. But judging by the tenor of the campaign, hope no longer seems to be in vogue.
Jacob Reses is the president of College Republicans. He is a Wilson School major from Linwood, N.J. and can be reached at email@example.com.