News Contraception

Santorum Successfully Woos Oklahoma Primary Voters by Signing Radical Petition to Ban Birth Control

Kari Ann Rinker

While campaigning in Oklahoma, Rick Santorum signed the Personhood petition that is being circulated in that state.  Santorum’s signature is no surprise, as all of the GOP nominees have jumped on that bandwagon.  But, Rick continues to try to have it both ways.

Oklahoma has become the new hotbed for Personhood activity with two bills introduced, one in the form of a constitutional amendment and one, a standard piece of legislation declaring fertilized eggs as people.  While campaigning in Oklahoma, Rick Santorum signed the Personhood Petition that is being circulated in that state.  Evidently the Personhood people are trying to set up their backstop through the implementation of the petition drive in case the legislative effort of “egg-as-person” should stall.

Santorum’s signature is no surprise, as almost all of the GOP nominees have jumped on that bandwagon.  But, Rick continues to try to have it both ways.  He backed away from Foster Friess’ comments about “Bayer aspirin between the legs”, stating that he “can’t be responsible for everything that his supporters say.”  He even went on Fox News touting his support for contraception.  Santorum stated,  “I’ve been on record for this, this right for women to have contraception.  I’ve supported funding for it.”

But see, Rick’s signature on the Oklahoma Personhood petition shows that he doesn’t support women’s right to access contraception, in fact he wants a constitutional ban on women’s contraception.  That opinion may have worked toward advancing Rick’s short term goal of winning in the Oklahoma primary, but it isn’t a viewpoint that is likely to win over the moderates that he will need to provide him with a national Presidential victory.

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Analysis Law and Policy

Religious Nonprofits Press Supreme Court for Full Exemption From Birth Control Benefit

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Supreme Court ordered the Obama administration and religiously affiliated nonprofits to work out a solution to the challenges to the Affordable Care Act's birth control benefit. Not surprisingly, the religiously affiliated nonprofits refuse to do so.

In late March, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Zubik v. Burwell, the lead case challenging the Obama administration’s process for accommodating religious objections to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit. It was apparent then that the remaining eight justices were deadlocked as to whether the process did enough to protect the religious objections of the nursing home operators and university administrators who had launched this latest round of lawsuits.

Hoping to avoid a split decision—which would subject some religiously affiliated nonprofits to penalties if they failed to follow the accommodation process and not others, depending on their appellate court circuit —the justices ordered the government and the religious objectors to try and find a solution both sides could work with and present it to the court via briefing in April. Well, the nonprofits and the Obama administration have filed that first round of briefing. And if the Roberts Court thought the religious objectors were interested in any sort of real solution to the problems posed in their lawsuits, it was mistaken. The negotiating position for the religiously affiliated challengers remains: full exemption from the requirement or bust.

In its order asking for supplemental briefing, the Roberts Court asked parties on both sides to address whether “contraceptive coverage may be obtained by petitioners’ employees through petitioners’ insurance companies, but in a way that does not require any involvement of petitioners beyond their own decision to provide health insurance without contraceptive coverage to their employees.” According to the nonprofits, “[t]he answer to that question is clear and simple: Yes.”

If only it were that clear and that simple.

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In the remaining 20-plus pages of the nonprofits’ brief, their lawyers set out a variety of options that could, they say, provide seamless contraception coverage while preventing the nonprofits from in any way “facilitating” the sin of providing health insurance plans that include contraception. But the thing is, none of those options are actually accommodations to the ACA’s requirement that employer-provided health insurance plans cover contraception at no additional cost or co-pay.

One of the religious objectors’ solutions, for example, is to have the government directly require insurance companies to create entirely new and separate contraception-only plans. The companies would then contact plan beneficiaries directly with information about the policy and how to enroll. These separate plans, objectors offer, could take the form of individual insurance policies or of group health plans sponsored by the government.

In other words, one option is for the government to come up with an entirely different regulatory scheme for dealing with contraception altogether. That scheme would apply to religiously affiliated nonprofits and presumably the secular for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby that petitioned the Roberts Court for the very same accommodation now regarded by objectors as too onerous for compliance.

The fact this is one option offered up by the religiously affiliated nonprofits should come as no surprise. It’s right out of the anti-choice playbook with regard to insurance coverage for abortion. As states set up their own insurance exchanges during the implementation of the ACA, anti-choice politicians were quick to put restrictions on the kinds of coverage for abortion that insurance companies could offer in individual or employer-sponsored plans. So far, 10 states ban abortion coverage generally, while 25 ban abortion coverage in their exchanges. In other words, if you happen to live in Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, or Utah, you cannot purchase a health insurance plan that covers abortion. At all. Including through your employer. Meanwhile, states like Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin—just to name a few—prevent comprehensive health insurance plans that cover abortion from being sold on their state exchanges.

Do we really think that if this “contraception insurance” plan offered by the religiously affiliated institutions were to become the “solution” to these legal challenges, the result would look any different than it has for insurance coverage for abortion? Hypothetically, broad contraceptive coverage could end across the country, with many states banning the coverage altogether. This, of course, is the exact scenario the Supreme Court is hoping to avoid.

All of the objectors’ “solutions” are, in fact, just other ways of granting exemptions from the birth control benefit. In other words, they seem to be saying, if and when religiously affiliated hospitals, nursing homes, and day care centers can be treated under the law the same way as churches, synagogues, and mosques, then the lawsuits will stop.

That doesn’t sound so much like a compromise as it does a threat.

The Obama administration has until April 20 to respond directly to the petitioners’ arguments. It has already filed its own briefing arguing the process as it stands completely accommodates any religious objections in a way that balances the government’s compelling interest in promoting nondiscriminatory health insurance coverage for employees while respecting the beliefs of those who see contraception as sin.

But perhaps most importantly, the government’s brief argues that any additional tinkering with the accommodation process, rather than a ruling on the merits by the Roberts Court that the current process is sufficient, will only result in many more years of litigation. And it’s a point the petitioners pretty much concede by failing to offer up any workable compromise at all.

News Abortion

Ballot Effort to Criminalize Abortion Care Ends in Oklahoma

Teddy Wilson

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a petition pushing for a vote on banning abortion care across the state.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a petition pushing for a vote on banning abortion care across the state.

Thomas Hunter of Norman, Oklahoma filed paperwork on January 27 to launch the signature-gathering campaign for Initiative Petition 406, as reported by the Associated Press.

Hunter would have had 90 days to gather at least 123,725 signatures from registered Oklahoma voters in order for State Question 782 to have appeared on the ballot in November. The initiative would have proposed an amendment to Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution to declare that anyone who performs an abortion in the state would be guilty of homicide.

The measure would have also outlawed the use of “contraception that causes the death of an unborn human being.”

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“The question is whether or not the Supreme Court ruling that born people have the right to kill unborn people was, in fact, constitutional in the first place,” Hunter told the Tulsa World .

The proposal drew the attention of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 

Maya Harris, a Clinton campaign senior adviser, told the Oklahoman that Clinton “believes Oklahoma women have a constitutional right to safe, legal abortion and to contraception, and they deserve to be able to make their health care decisions without interference from government or extreme special interest groups.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oklahoma in February challenged the petition on the grounds that outlawing abortion care violates both the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions.

“This Court is duty bound by the United States and the Oklahoma Constitution to ‘follow the mandates of the United States Supreme Court on matters of federal constitutional law,’” the Court said in its ruling.

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of ACLU Oklahoma, said in a statement that the proposal would have limited a person’s right to make reproductive decisions, guaranteed by more than four decades of Supreme Court precedent.

“It’s abundantly clear that any measure that interferes with a woman’s reproductive rights, including the legal right to have access to abortion, is unconstitutional,” Kiesel said. “This is the Oklahoma Supreme Court simply reaffirming the very basic principles of federalism and constitutional law.”