Why the birth control ruling might just deliver for the Democrats

With a crucial midterm looming, the Supreme Court's decision could energise liberals


There is some good news in the otherwise depressing decision by the US Supreme Court this week exempting owners of some corporations from the requirement under Obamacare to offer birth control to their female employers if doing so conflicts somehow with their religious beliefs. Possibly.

Democrats, already in the minority in the House of Representatives, are fearful of losing control of the Senate as well in the midterm elections in November. They just might avoid it if they can mobilise two groups to turn out and vote for their candidates: women and the young. Monday’s ruling might help.

Republicans who have tried and failed to overturn the Affordable Care Act pushed through by President Barack Obama four years ago can barely contain their glee. Anything that has the effect at least of undermining that law is a cause for jubilation. “This is a clear and decisive defeat against Obamacare and a victory for the rights of all Americans,” said the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus.

Is that so? Certainly it is thrilling for religious conservatives who can’t stand the fact that Mr Obama champions progressive social policies. (Actually, they just can’t tolerate his being President at all.)

On gay marriage they are taking a beating. But they are doing much better using the Lord’s name elsewhere, notably to restrict the ability of women to avoid unwanted pregnancies and seek abortions when they can’t. For some time, Democrats have tried to make the case that Republicans are engaged in a war on women.

The argument was crystallised before the 2012 elections by Todd Akin, a Republican Congressman in Missouri, who blew his a Senate race by averring that women who were victims of “legitimate rape”, whatever that is, rarely conceived and became pregnant.

Plenty of women were offended then and should be now. In its five-to-four decision the court sided with the evangelical Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts-and-crafts shops mostly in the South and the Midwest, who contended that abiding by the Obamacare provision requiring them to offer health insurance to all their employees – that includes coverage for some forms of birth control – violated laws protecting religious freedom.

Jeremy Meeks is a monster, not a heartthrob
The Government must make our roads safer for children
The new DKNY Ramadam collection is beautiful

The ruling is limited only in the sense that it will apply to “closely held” corporations controlled by just a few people, often family members, only, not to large publicly held entities. In particular, Hobby Lobby said it objected the use of either intrauterine devices, IUDs, or two brands of morning-after pill because, in their view, what they did inside the woman’s body – essentially blocking eggs already fertilised by a sperm from successfully embedding in the womb – amounted to abortion. You might want to debate that.

While the US has matured at staggering speed on the question of who is entitled to love (and marry) whom, the debate on abortion gets only more polarised and poisonous. It is as if for some on the right, abortion and family planning are aberrations they can stamp out. What world are they living in? A study just out from the Guttmacher Institute points out that half of pregnancies in the US are unintended and four in 10 of those are terminated by abortion. Three in 10 American women will have had abortion by the age of 45.

Yet Republican-controlled legislatures in multiple states have used the last few years to do whatever they can to restrict access to abortion. According to the pro-choice lobby group NARAL, 87 per cent of all counties in the US are now without any kind of abortion clinic or service for women. Needless to say, any effort to make getting an abortion more difficult disproportionately affects poorer women.

The Republicans need to take care. Polls consistently show an overwhelming majority of women believe there is nothing morally wrong with birth control. Yet there was Senator Mike Lee of Utah, a Tea Party Republican, agreeing with a radio interviewer this week that women use birth control mostly so they can engage in “recreational behaviour”. He said, “Yeah, that’s right”. No it’s not. What about economic reasons for not wanting to be pregnant or medical ones?

Equally hazardous for the GOP is the drive that sputters on in several states to pass so-called “personhood amendments” that hold that the instant an egg has been fertilised during intercourse it should have the full rights of any human citizen. The passage of such amendments would make abortion illegal regardless of weeks or trimesters. IUDs and morning-after pills would automatically be barred too.

If you think the personhood debate is too “out there” to be serious, take a trip to Colorado where Democratic Senator Mark Udall is in a tight race with Republican Congressman Cory Gardner to keep his seat. Senator Udall’s best hope for clinging on – and perhaps blocking a Republican take-over of the Senate as a whole – is to remind voters that Mr Gardner has a long history supporting personhood. It hardly matters that Mr Gardner has recently reversed his position, presumably after seeing what it was doing to him electorally.

Sure Hobby Lobby was a rebuke to President Obama. But for his party it may be just what the doctor ordered – a call to women to stand up and fight before their reproductive rights vanish before their eyes.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Accountant - London - £48,000 - 12 month FTC

£40000 - £48000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: International Acc...

Day In a Page

Read Next

If I were Prime Minister: I'd shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid

Marina Warner

Sorry Britain, but nobody cares about your little election – try being relevant next time

Emanuel Sidea
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power