Thursday, March 1, 2012

Anti-Contraception Bill Defeated in Senate, 51-48 - Implications for the Presidential Election

The United States Senate just voted to table the Blunt Amendment, 51-48.  What are the implications for the Presidential campaign?

Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo reports Democrats Narrowly Block Blunt Amendment, noting that the bill was defeated 51-48.  This bill sponsored by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) would have permitted employers to deny coverage for any medical treatment to which they have a moral or religious objection.  The law was prompted by a rule promulgated by the Obama administration requiring employers' health insurance to cover contraception.  Also influencing the debate over this matter are the remarks of Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum to the effect that birth control is immoral and that women working outside the home have harmed the American family.  Finally, candidate Mitt Romney broke his own record for flip-flopping yesterday by expressing his opposition to the bill and then one hour later stating that he in fact supported it.  He explained that he "misunderstood the question."

This is not a winning issue for Republicans.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, almost all women (religious or not) use or have used birth control.  Their report released April 13, 2011, states:

  • Among all women who have had sex, 99% have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same among Catholic women (98%).
  • Among sexually active women of all denominations who do not want to become pregnant, 69% are using a highly effective method (i.e., sterilization, the pill or another hormonal method, or the IUD).
  • Some 68% of Catholic women use a highly effective method, compared with 73% of Mainline Protestants and 74% of Evangelicals.
  • Only 2% of Catholic women rely on natural family planning; this is true even among Catholic women who attend church once a month or more.
  • More than four in 10 Evangelicals rely on male or female sterilization, a figure that is higher than among the other religious groups.

Nor is this a wedge issue.  It is not as if Republicans stand to gain men's votes by spurning women; few men object to their partner's use of birth control.  I suppose that gay and lesbian couples might not have any use for birth control per se, but I doubt that religious conservatives are counting on courting that cohort.

Nor do I believe that the unremitting campaign against Planned Parenthood will reap electoral riches for Republicans.  Most women  do not consider PP to be the harbinger of Satan, but simply the last resort source of services for women's health - the last line of defense for indigent women who otherwise lack access to health care.

The Roper Center estimates that in 2008 56% of women voted for Obama and 43% for McCain; among men, Obama won 49% to 48%.  I suspect that the gender gap will substantially widen this year.

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