Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
You may have heard that Foster Friess, Rick Santorum surrogate and bankroller, offered women a solution for saving money on contraception in lieu of President Obama’s plan to cover it fully. “You know, back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly,” he told Andrea Mitchell today. If you weren’t familiar with the old-timer expression, he didn’t mean applying the aspirin vaginally — he meant that the sluts should just keep their legs shut.
But it’s worth looking at what he said right before that: “I get such a chuckle when these things come out. Here we have millions of our fellow Americans unemployed, we have jihadist camps being set up in Latin America, which Rick has been warning about, and people seem to be so preoccupied with sex that I think it says something about our culture. We maybe need a massive therapy session so we can concentrate on what the real issues are.”
This is deeply ironic, and not just because Friess has chosen to back a candidate whose singular obsession with state regulation of sexual behavior has helped bring the more extreme stances of the anti-choice movement to the forefront. It bears repeating that Santorum said as recently as October, “Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s OK, contraception is OK. It’s not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
It’s also because Friess said all this on a day when Rep. Darrell Issa convened a House Oversight Committee to ponder the following question (rendered verbatim), “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” The topic, of course, was the Affordable Care Act’s mandated coverage of contraceptives as preventive care, and how unsatisfied Republicans remain with the compromise that has satisfied everyone who actually provides healthcare. And it’s not just the Republican House, which has long been interested in convening show hearings about regulating uteruses without any realistic path to getting something done: Marco Rubio and Roy Blunt are trying to tack on a “right of conscience” amendment to the highway bill that would allow all employers to opt out of any coverage they claim violates their religious beliefs.
Those hearings got a lot more attention than your average subcommittee does, when two female congresswomen, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Carolyn Maloney, walked out in protest of the all-male lineup in the first panel. “What I want to know is, where are the women?” asked Maloney. “I look at this panel, and I don’t see one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventive healthcare services, including family planning.” Two women were on the second panel, but Republicans barred the female Georgetown law student who had been put forward to testify about how lack of access to contraception had led her friend to lose an ovary. Issa, according to Politico, said “she was ‘not found to be appropriate or qualified’ to testify about religious liberty. He said liberty, not contraception, was the topic of the hearing.”
Contraceptive coverage and women’s health are “real issues,” contrary to Friess’ formulation, but they’re public health issues that should be addressed by expanding access to options that women are already choosing for themselves, when they can. Still, the administration moved on from this almost a week ago, defusing it for anyone persuadable when they announced their compromise. The only people keeping this issue in the news right now are Republicans vainly posturing on behalf of legislation that has no chance in the current climate. The only real question is, why? Can’t they read polls? Aren’t they aware of how much they’re playing into Obama’s hands by associating themselves with a position that Americans manifestly find extreme — with video, no less? We already know they’re completely unaware of how prohibitively expensive birth control access can be for the average American.
Most of all, Republicans seem intent on proving that pro-choicers are correct when they accuse them of being more obsessed with policing women’s sex lives than any actual policymaking. By the way, here’s how Mitchell responded to Friess: “Excuse me, I’m just trying to catch my breath from that.” It is, in fact, breathtaking how incredibly divorced from reality this conversation has been.
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)