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As the calendar inches closer to November, the word on everybody's lips seems to be contraception -- well, at least for politicians and pundits. But how much of this huffing and puffing really affects how Americans think? Is birth control really an issue that Americans feel is important?
Not according to a recent survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) that reported 63 percent of Americans support a federal mandate requiring private health insurance plans to cover the full cost of birth control. Broken down across party lines, that’s 8 out of 10 Democrats; 6 out of 10 Independents; and 4 out of 10 Republicans. The age divide among Republicans speaks volumes: In the 18-49 age group, more than 50 percent of Republicans agree with the requirement versus 33 percent of the 50+ age group (who presumably aren't taking measures to prevent pregnancy or treat issues such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, aka PCOS).
Even though most Americans seem to be onboard with birth control being included in health insurance coverage, House Republicans sent the Blunt Amendment to the Senate floor last week in a move to exempt religious-based employers like hospitals and universities from offering insurance plans that cover contraception. The amendment went even further to allow any employer, religious or not, the right to refuse any healthcare procedure on moral grounds (including mammograms, prenatal care and HIV/AIDS screenings).
So how do Americans feel about contraception across religious faiths? According to data from the National Survey on Family Growth 99 percent of sexually active women who are of childbearing age -- regardless of religious affiliation -- have used some form of contraception, ranging from the three most reliable methods (Pill, IUD or sterilization), to condoms and the withdrawal method.
Some public personalities have weighed in with a different take. Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a prostitute and a slut for testifying that hormonal birth control is a women’s health issue (the Pill is often used to treat PCOS). Actress and pro-life conservative Patricia Heaton took to Twitter to describe Fluke as a “G-Town Gal who wants the government to pay for her sex life.” But is the government paying for someone's birth control?
To clarify: The women's preventative healthcare provision, which includes the mandate on birth control coverage, is part of the Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in March 2010. But the basis for this "mandate" actually predates the Obama administration – it's actually enforcing a 2000 ruling by the Equal Employee Opportunity Commission that stipulates any private or employer-sponsored insurance plans that offer men preventative care medicine, such as erectile dysfunction treatment, also must provide women with preventative care medicine such as birth control. This does dip into tax-payer money to pay for women's contraception -- the onus is on the private or employer-sponsored insurer to cover the cost as part of its plan. And employees pay for part of their contraception from the outset since most pay into their employer-sponsored health insurance plan.
Interestingly enough, when the KFF pollsters asked whether women’s health was an important issue that needed to be addressed by political candidates, less than 1 percent said yes. Salonika Evans, a 21-year-old Independent from Georgia, sums up the juxtaposition perfectly: “I am sitting at home eating ramen noodles and everyone in the government is eating filet mignon and talking about birth control, and they are all men.”
In other words, Americans seem to think there are bigger fish to fry this election year. What really matters to voters? According to the Kaiser Foundation poll results:
The economy and jobs (60 percent)
Healthcare and Medicaid (22 percent)
Taxes and the national debt (12 percent)
War in the Middle East (6 percent)
It sounds like Americans are saying leave the tartar sauce alone, and get back to the main course.
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