THE HILL: The Hard Truth About Reproductive Health Under Obama
MARCH 2015 by Jon O’Brien(President of Catholics for Choice)
The administration has repeatedly listened to the bishops and other conservative religious leaders, rather than listening to the majority of people of faith who want sexual and reproductive freedom guaranteed for themselves and everybody else. Especially, the way that the administration handled the Affordable Care Act led directly to the Hobby Lobby decision. By setting apart religiously-affiliated organizations with separate rules in an effort to appease the Catholic hierarchy’s business lobby, the Obama administration opened the door for ever-expanding exceptions based on religious dictates, rather than protecting real religious liberty for all. It’s a sad fact that the exceptions this administration granted have now become the rule for bad policies. By appeasing their conservative Catholic friends and giving away the store on exemptions, it sets a bad precedent for the future. Today’s conscience clause on abortion will give way to tomorrow’s discrimination against gay employees—or any other aspect of an employee’s personal life a boss might disagree with. And let us not forget that it was, ironically, a Republican judge in New York who forced Obama’s FDA to give us over-the-counter emergency contraception. Even that victory was one the administration under Obama fought to block time and time again.
This is the truth that dare not speak its name: to the many people who work hard for reproductive justice, some Democrats aren’t always our best friends. However, considering the constant hostility from Republicans on reproductive health issues, Democrats are often our only friends. So many Democrats who have worked hard on Capitol Hill are beggared for belief by Obama’s aversion to standing up for sexual and reproductive health. All of that said, if you’ve not been convinced by this litany of disappointing inaction and capitulation by this Democratic administration, let me give you one more example of why so many of us find Obama so disappointing.
The Helms Amendment, enacted by Congress in 1973, prohibits foreign assistance funds for abortion services “as a method of family planning.” The policy has been strictly implemented by USAID as a complete ban on support or counseling for safe abortion care. It creates unwarranted barriers that prevent women around the world from following their conscience, and it unnecessarily ties the hands of agencies receiving US aid from providing critical care to the women they serve. Though this strict interpretation of Helms could be easily revised, the Obama administration, out of fear of upsetting ultraconservatives in Washington, continues to perpetuate this policy and do nothing. They do nothing even though this policy imposes an unjustly harsh interpretation of the Helms Amendment at the expense of the most vulnerable women, denying them the right to decide what is best for their lives and families.
It has lobbied nationally and internationally for pro-choice goals and led an unsuccessful effort to downgrade the Holy See’s status in the United Nations.