The piece first appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat (October 13, 2017).
In case you missed it, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which criminalizes abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. There are exceptions for instances when the life of the mother is at risk and in cases involving rape or incest.
Two days after the bill’s passage, President Donald Trump announced he would roll back the employer contraception requirement. While the bill may not see the Senate floor any time soon, the rollback on contraception is a blow to family planning.
Birth control is critical to the prevention of unplanned pregnancy and, until recently, generally had support from politicians on both sides of the aisle. You may remember the Republican-led effort to make certain kinds of birth control available over the counter and the slew of Republicans, including Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — no women’s rights advocate — signing contraceptive coverage laws in their states.
So what happened?
The Republican Party took power, and the divisions among conservatives became a real problem. This is not unusual. Divisions are common among politicians when their party is in power, particularly among politicians who want their constituents’ continued support.
The difference here is that the Republican Party repeatedly failed on a seven-year promise to repeal Obamacare. This public failure is consequential. It undermines constituents’ beliefs that Republicans – or at least establishment Republicans – can get the job done.
Roy Moore’s primary victory for the U.S. Senate representing Alabama makes clear that citizens who identify as Republicans continue to take seriously these outside-the-Beltway candidates with polemic positions and fiery rhetoric. There don’t seem to be many opportunities for Republican unity in the future, not with immigration and tax reform looming around the corner.
Given these harsh, political realities, Republicans needed a common cause, an issue around which they could unite. Restricting women’s access to abortion and birth control is that issue.
The social implications of this well-worn rallying point are numerous, but one in particular warrants additional attention. Pitting women’s rights against employers’ religious beliefs sets a dangerous precedent under which American employees are bound to lose. Down the political road, employers could refuse to cover a range of medications and procedures with a claim of “moral convictions,” including something as simple as blood transfusions, which some religions do not allow.
It is heartening to see Democrats and Republicans working together for change. Women’s rights to prevent and end pregnancy, however, should not be fodder in party politics.
Deana A. Rohlinger is a professor of sociology and a research associate in the Pepper Institute for Aging and Public Policy at Florida State University. She is the author of “Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America.”