Stephanie Slade is a project director at the Winston Group, a political strategy company.
Last month, Daily Beast columnist Andrew Sullivan took his place in a litany of commentators asserting that the Obama administration's birth control mandate is an issue of concern only to a tiny number of "men in robes" and "older white Catholic" male pundits. Three days later, Rep. Karen Bass took up the cause when she declared on Twitter that "since the contraceptive debate began, the leading voices have been men. Even Republican women aren't speaking out in support of this madness."
There's a problem with implying opposition is limited to a small minority of men, however: It risks leaving people with the impression that opposition to the mandate is, in fact, limited to a small minority of men.
That perception could not be more divergent from reality, and the more widely it's repeated, the more marginalized are the views of the many women like myself who do consider the measure to be a violation of religious freedom.
Let's reflect on the data.
Polls have found differing levels of support. In a study commissioned by Planned Parenthood, the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling reported that a majority of both registered voters (56 percent) and Catholics (53 percent) favor the rule. Meanwhile, CNN found that fully half of likely voters and 46 percent of women oppose the requirement.
Charitably assuming that Catholic women are no more likely than other women to take issue with the measure, there would nonetheless remain about 13 million Catholic women in America with objections—hardly a negligible number. And both polling and anecdote suggest large percentages of Evangelical Christian women also think the rule infringes upon religious organizations' right to free exercise of conscience.
The attempts, therefore, to paint this as a "narrow" issue on which hardly any women disagree with the administration are not only disingenuous—they are in and of themselves damaging to the cause of women's rights.
In dismissing opposition to the measure as a fringe position held only by a few white males, the Health and Human Services mandate's apologists have stripped millions of women of their voices. Under the guise of protecting women's health and achieving equality of the sexes, these individuals have brought about an end state in which a very real segment of women in the United States is rendered unimportant if not invisible.
It's becoming increasingly clear that the feminist goal of empowering women extends only as far as any woman's willingness to toe the political line.
Actually, many women have spoken out against this rule, though you wouldn't know it from the coverage.
Among the most prominent is Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, who responded to the rule by writing that "the Catholic Church was told this week that its institutions can't be Catholic anymore" and has since urged opponents of the mandate to "be resolute and press harder" to defeat it.
After the president announced a "compromise" that did nothing to address the concerns of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a religious community called the Sisters of Life released a statement condemning the measure as a government act that would "coerce each and every individual Sister of Life to betray her religious vows."
The office of Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio confirmed receipt of hundreds of phone calls and thousands of emails—from female as well as male constituents—voicing objection to the measure.
And the Catholic blog Women of Grace has in recent weeks switched into overdrive cataloguing the administration's abuses on this issue and encouraging its readers to stand strong in opposition.
Yet supporters of the mandate continue shamelessly to disseminate the apocryphal claim that it's only men—and a small number of men, at that—who object to the administration forcing religious organizations to violate their beliefs.
This isn't the first time the left has minimized the significance and even denied the existence of women who disagree with it.
A stock accusation by abortion supporters has long been that the prolife movement is an effort by men, who themselves need not worry about the "inconvenience" of becoming pregnant, to keep women subordinated.
Whether intentionally or out of ignorance, that view belittles the many millions of women of every religious stripe who believe the unborn's right to life is absolute. In the name of protecting "women's rights," it categorically disregards the beliefs of anyone who dares to voice a contrary opinion.
In effect, the message from those who think birth control and abortion should be freely available is that when it comes to respecting women's voices in important political debates, those who disagree with the feminist agenda need not be considered.
- See a collection of political cartoons on healthcare.
- Read the U.S. News debate: Will the Culture Wars Benefit the GOP in the 2012 Election?
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