Karen Heller: What? Birth control? Again?

President Obama announcing the revision on mandating contraception coverage.
President Obama announcing the revision on mandating contraception coverage. (Associated Press)
Posted: February 12, 2012

Here we are in 2012 curing many types of cancer, owning tiny phones that do terrific things, listening to a presidential candidate propose a colony on the moon, and we're still debating birth control?

The Obama administration's Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect in August, required employer health insurance plans, including those of church-affiliated universities, hospitals, and charities, to offer contraception at no cost.

Religious leaders launched a holy war, led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience," said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan. Pope Benedict XVI warned of "the grave threats to the Church's public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres." Political conservatives, particularly those running for office, jumped into the fray.

President Obama offered a compromise Friday: If religious employers object, they won't be mandated to offer contraception. Instead, insurance companies would be required to do so free of charge. Obama said: "Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health. Period." Still, some church leaders vowed to continue their fight.

Most people employed, attending, or using church-affiliated institutions don't have objections to contraception. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.), "a committed Catholic," observed that the coverage "will reduce health costs, end long-standing gender discrimination in prescription-drug coverage, and further enable women to lead healthier lives."

Virtually all women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, have used some form of contraception banned by the Vatican. Last April, the Guttmacher Institute noted: "The debate over contraception has long been settled in real-life America."

Ha! Who says we're living in real-life America?

Here are two things on which I think everyone can agree:

1. People, including Catholics, have sex.

2. Sex, without contraception, can lead to unintended pregnancies.

Conservatives should love, love, love contraception. Birth control is smart business and cost-effective, a powerful weapon in combating poverty, lowering health costs, reducing abortions, allowing couples to have children when they're ready, while enriching the economy with more working women.

Know who has a problem with contraception? Recovering Pennsylvanian Rick Santorum, winner of all three Tuesday presidential contests - although, as humorist Andy Borowitz observed, "People liking you more than Romney is not the same as people liking you."

Santorum said last fall: "Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that's OK, contraception is OK. It's not OK. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." Also, "One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country."

Priests may know a lot about many things, but sex and family planning are not two of them. The last people we should have lecturing us about birth control is a group of celibate men employed by a patriarchal theocracy.

The Catholic Church basically endorses one form of birth control, the rhythm method, which is contraception for stupid people.

Obama rightly observed that part of this birth-control battle is rooted in "the more cynical desire on the part of some to make this into a political football." This is a dumb fight that will drive women (53 percent of the 2008 electorate), independents, and contraception-favoring Catholics to Obama. Santorum would be foolish to depend on the 2 percent of the population practicing the rhythm method, especially in this economy, when unintended pregnancies help few.

The pope worries about "radical secularism," but people can exhibit tremendous faith yet be wise enough to practice preventive health and smart family planning.

Faith and birth control can coexist and, obviously, do.


Contact columnist Karen Heller at 215-854-2586, kheller@phillynews.com, or @kheller on Twitter. Read

her past columns at www.philly.com/KarenHeller.

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