On Thursday the Senate voted 51-48 to kill an extreme piece of legislation that would have allowed employers to opt out of health coverage mandates that they claim violate their religious or moral beliefs. It was a transparent attempt to undermine the administration's policy, under the Affordable Care Act, to require free access to contraceptives as part of the preventative health services insurance plans must offer.
Sensitive to religious rights, the administration exempted from the contraception mandate houses of worship that oppose contraception on religious grounds. In response to objections from Catholic leaders, President Obama then went a step further, ordering that church-affiliated, non-profit organizations, such as hospitals, charities and schools, would not have to underwrite those services in their policies, but in such cases these services would have to be directly provided by the insurer.
That was not good enough for the increasingly socially conservative Republican establishment. The amendment filed by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., would have given employers the ability to issue contraception bans for employee health policies. In fact, it would have allowed employers, using the rationale of moral objection, to block any mandates they did not like, such as maternity care, mental health services and immunizations
But this fight is hardly over. Depending on the results of the November election, women could face the erosion of reproductive rights that they have come to take for granted. Rick Santorum, a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president, supports a requirement that a woman undergo an invasive medical procedure before having an abortion. His super-PAC supporter pines for the good ol' days, when he said a woman prevented pregnancy by keeping an aspirin between her knees. (To Foster Friess' credit, he later apologized for what he termed a joke.)
Someone, it appears, forgot to tell Mr. Santorum that abortion and contraception are legal. Someone also forgot to ask Mr. Santorum whether he would like to care for the babies unable to be cared for by their mothers, who might be too poor or too burdened or too sick to do so.
His opponent, Mitt Romney, said something admirably reasonable this week when asked during an interview in Ohio about the Blunt amendment.
"The idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I'm not going there," Mr. Romney said.
However, Mr. Romney quickly reversed course when social conservatives viewed his comments as political apostasy. It was all a mistake, he said, of course he supported the amendment.
Rational argument on reproductive rights is apparently not tolerated in a political party that now sees it as a policy goal to add more steps between a woman and her doctor and increase the obstacles to her legal right to choose. Women of means can better navigate these obstacles, while women with limited access to money, transportation and support are less able to scale the hurdles placed along an already agonizing road of emotions and decisions.
It is hard to believe that fewer than 100 years have passed since women here achieved "personhood," enabling them to cast ballots in the voting booth. Forty or so years after that right to vote, women legally gained the choice to use contraception. About 20 years since that ruling, women legally gained the right to choose whether to have abortions.
Contraception and abortion - they are legal, not mandatory.
It is time to stop using women's health issues as political pawns in these presidential campaigns; time to stop the madness of trying to kick women back to the Stone Age, or to the Victorian Age, for that matter.
Refocus the debate on the business of making the United States a healthy, prosperous place to live and to earn a living.