Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Call it the Taco Bell frontier. When President Obama personally announced today that the foretold compromise on contraceptive coverage would involve insurers’ directly offering no-co-pay contraception to women whose employers object, he wasn’t trying to placate the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who made it clear this week that they were uninterested in anything resembling compromise. He was talking to moderates who might be horrified to learn how far the USCCB wanted to take things.
Anthony Picarello, that group’s general counsel, told USA Today that “We’re not going to do anything until this is fixed,” meaning removing the requirement for fully covered birth control from the healthcare law altogether, because there are “good Catholic business people who can’t in good conscience cooperate with this.” He added, “If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I’d be covered by the mandate.”
That was getting greedy. As long as the USCCB and Republican opportunists could intimate that Obama was forcing pious priests to offer birth control pills instead of communion, they had a shot at reframing this debate about religious liberty instead of equal access to healthcare for women. But once the bishops made it clear they would take their opposition to birth control to the bitter end — past not only employees of Catholic hospitals and universities, and to all American women interested in no-cost birth control — they lost.
Because, of course, this isn’t about religious liberty, as the bishops admitted long ago. “We consider [birth control] an elective drug,” the bishops’ spokesman told the Daily Beast’s Dana Goldstein last summer, before the guidelines to fully cover contraception were adopted. “Married women can practice periodic abstinence. Other women can abstain altogether. Not having sex doesn’t make you sick.” While this may not be realistic or good public-health policy, at least it’s honest about what world they really want for women.
Today, the “accommodation,” as it was being described, has the support of major pro-choice groups, including Planned Parenthood, that were lobbying for the coverage mandate from day one. It also has evidently placated the same Catholics who were willing to work with the Obama administration before on healthcare reform — namely, Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Association. That’s the same official whom pundits had earlier been complaining had been thrown under the bus.
Meanwhile, pro-choicers who had been worried that the Obama administration would heed the indignant cries of the likes of E.J. Dionne and Joe Scarborough over the numerous public opinion polls showing the policy’s popularity — or the prospect of an energized female vote, for that matter — are instead declaring a tactical victory. ”The only losers right now are the Catholic bishops, who have become increasingly marginalized within society and even within the church,” wrote Frances Kissling, a former president of Catholics for Choice. The bishops themselves conceded as much with their relatively toothless statement today, calling this “a first step in the right direction.”
Add to that list Republicans who still believe birth control limits are a winning issue for them. They should check their numbers. About an hour after the compromise was announced, Mitt Romney was onstage at CPAC promising to defund Planned Parenthood, a group that, objectively, seems to be having a pretty good month.
Kissling added, ”When the White House cares more about what a simple Catholic sister, [Keehan], thinks than about what the bishops think, Catholic women can applaud.” Provided the policy kinks can be worked out and women can still be guaranteed to get no-cost birth control privately and without major hurdles, we all can.
Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. More Irin Carmon.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)