Contraception spin battle -- an attack on faith or women?
Democrats like to point out the broad public support for many elements of the healthcare reform law they pushed through Congress in 2010. But polls also show that most people reject the law -- better known as "Obamacare" -- as a whole despite their appreciation for most of its key features. That's because opponents won the fight over how the complex measure would be perceived. In other words, the Republicans' spin -- "it's a government takeover of healthcare" -- was better than the Democrats' spin.
Now, the two parties are fighting over how one portion of the law will be implemented, and the battle over spin has been joined again. There's broad public support for the law's mandate that insurers cover preventive care with no deductibles or co-pays. But the Obama administration triggered a fierce fight with the Roman Catholic Church when it declared that contraceptives were a form of preventive care that had to be provided at no cost to policyholders.
At first I thought the GOP had this issue nailed. The Republicans had a powerful and succinct message: Requiring church-affiliated employers, such as Catholic hospitals, to provide free contraceptives was an attack on religious liberty. President Obama tried to defuse the controversy by exempting churches from having to pay for contraceptive coverage -- the bill will be picked up instead by insurers -- but that's no help for large Catholic employers that self-insure.
As is customary for politicians, however, Republicans weakened their message by offering a counterproposal with problems of its own. The amendment that Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) offered to a highway construction bill Thursday would have let any employer drop any coverage that didn't comport to his or her religious or moral beliefs.
The Blunt amendment, which was narrowly defeated, opened the door to an effective counter-spin by Democrats. Political consultant Doug Schoen lays it out in Forbes: Republicans weren't just trying to free churches from having to provide coverage for the morning-after pill; they were giving every boss the opportunity to drop coverage for contraception. One can imagine the 30-second spots now, played during daytime TV and on female-leaning cable channels: "Republicans want employers to deny coverage for birth control pills, but they have no qualms about insurers covering Viagra!"
What do you think? Offer your own spin in the comments section below.
-- Jon Healey
Photo illustration by Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times