Conservative women opposed to birth-control mandate push to reframe debate

Conservatives — including conservative women — are pushing back hard against charges that opposition to the White House’s contraception mandate is an attack on women.

Democrats and supporters of the birth-control mandate are framing the debate around women’s health. They’ve seized on the catchphrase “Where are the women?” following a House hearing that featured an all-male panel of witnesses testifying against the White House policy.

Women who oppose the mandate are taking on an increasingly public role as the right tries to refocus the debate around religious liberty.

“If it’s made a contraception issue, they’ll win,” Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) said Monday.

She cast the contraception mandate as one example of government overreach in President Obama’s healthcare law. Critics of the policy are concerned about “the erosion of all freedoms,” not about birth control, she said.

“The very essence of the healthcare law is that the government is going to tell you what your healthcare is going to be,” Buerkle said.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was hoping to make roughly the same point with an Oversight hearing on the policy, but his message was overwhelmed by images of the all-male witness panel. Republicans and some religious groups are fighting to overcome those optics and reframe the debate around religious liberty.

“I care deeply about women’s health,” Buerkle said. “This is not a women’s health issue that we’re talking about, and it’s so important not to be deceived and not to be distracted.”

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the mandate Tuesday with three female witnesses and only one man. And the conservative Heritage Foundation organized a forum Monday made up solely of women — including Buerkle — who oppose the contraception policy.

“I don’t really give a rip what gender is speaking about religious freedom as long as somebody is talking about it,” said Maggie Kerner, who leads Lutheran programs in Missouri.

The Senate will likely vote soon on a proposal from Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal Another health funding cliff puts care for millions at risk Top Senate Dem: We're going forward with understanding we can work with White House on DACA MORE (R-Mo.) that would allow employers to opt out of any healthcare mandates they find immoral. And Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGun proposal picks up GOP support Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Dems see Trump as potential ally on gun reform MORE (R-Ky.) penned an op-ed in a Kentucky newspaper Monday arguing that the contraception debate is about freedom of religion.

“The fact that liberals believe the controversy is about contraception underscores the troubled relationship they have with the Constitution,” McConnell wrote.

The White House policy would require most employers to include coverage for contraception in their employees’ healthcare plans, without a co-pay or deductible. Churches and houses of worship would be exempt.

Religious-affiliated employers like Catholic hospitals would not have to directly cover birth control or pay for their employees to receive it. Women who work at those organizations would get contraception through the insurance company, still without any cost-sharing.