WASHINGTON (CNA)—The head of a group that works to elect pro-life candidates said that this election year women want to defend their freedom of conscience against attacks by the Obama administration.
“Women do not think the president and a small group of federal officeholders should succeed in co-opting freedom of conscience,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.
Dannenfelser told CNA on Feb. 27 that although those who oppose the Obama administration’s contraception mandate have been depicted as oppressive to women’s interests, many women in America actually object to the federal rule.
But those who support the rule have argued that women have a right to contraception without cost and have portrayed those who oppose it as being anti-woman.
The House’s minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has recently criticized the “Republicans’ anti-woman agenda,” and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., predicted that women would rise up in outrage against the Republican Party’s “hostility to women’s health” in the next election.
However, Dannenfelser explained, women do not want the president to arbitrarily restrict their constitutionally guaranteed right to religious liberty.
“For years, ‘Who decides?’ was the favorite incantation from the feminist movement,” she said.
While the question dodges the central issue on the topic of abortion, she explained, it is relevant to the current debate.
“‘Who decides’ which is more fundamental: religious freedom or an ideology of reproductive health care?” she asked.
Dannenfelser said that “President Obama asserts it is government, specifically himself as spokesman, who decides what a properly formed conscience is.”
However, the answer to the question was already “decided some time ago and recorded as the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” she said. “President Obama does not have the power to now re-decide this constitutional principle through regulation.”
The Susan B. Anthony List president joins numerous women who have spoken out against the suggestion that the mandate is universally endorsed by women.
More than 2,000 women from various religious, political and professional backgrounds have signed an open letter opposing the mandate and asking Obama’s administration and members of Congress not to speak for them in supporting it.
Recent polling data also suggests that many women are not outraged by Republican opposition to the mandate, as Boxer had suggested they were.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll, conducted Feb. 15 to 19, shows that GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum has enjoyed a recent increase in favorability among Republican women.
Santorum, who has spoken out strongly against the mandate and voiced his own opposition to birth control as a Catholic, is now viewed favorably by 57% of Republican women, up 13% since January.
The poll also revealed that only 40% of Democratic women view Santorum unfavorably, while Mitt Romney is viewed unfavorably by 55% and Newt Gingrich is viewed unfavorably by 63%.
Dannenfelser said that Americans will use electoral and legislative means to “stop this attack” launched by Obama against religious freedom: “First, we will advance legislation to disarm his assault on conscience; and second, implement electoral strategy to defeat him.”
Women in fields ranging from law to medicine are denouncing the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, arguing that it violates religious freedom and promotes a culture that degrades women.
“This whole idea of contraception, sterilization and abortifacients as being necessary for a woman’s health is actually demeaning to women,” said Gloria Purvis, a policy director at a major financial services company and board member for the Northwest Pregnancy Center and Maternity Home.
She explained that this idea is based on the belief “that women, because of our fertility, are deficient, and we need fixing,” and she warned that the mandate “further presses this false perception into the American psyche.”
Purvis took part in a Feb. 27 panel of women at the Catholic Information Center in Washington that spoke out against the Jan. 20 mandate announced by the Obama administration.
Purvis, who has also served on the National Black Catholic Congress’ Leadership Commission, said that the Catholic Church is engaged in a spiritual battle for religious freedom.
She added that the ability to create and foster life is already “undervalued” in our culture and predicted that if the mandate succeeds it will further an attitude of “hostility toward motherhood.”
The Catholic Church offers true liberation for women, she said, explaining that “it’s the Church that allows me full membership without asking me to check my fertility at the door.”
Dr. Marie Anderson, chief medical officer of the Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Va., said that, as an obstetrician-gynecologist, she feels set up to be a “pawn” in the administration’s attacks on liberty and human dignity.
Anderson, who serves as the president of the Northern Virginia Guild of the Catholic Medical Association, said that women should not accept a culture that assumes they will allow their bodies to be “violated” by medication.
“People talk about the pill as if it were candy,” she said. “And it’s not.”
She outlined a long list of serious side effects associated with the birth-control pill, including deadly blood clots and strokes.
Anderson said that it is “just wrong” to “break” a healthy reproductive system with medication.“It’s taking fertility, which is a healthy state, and calling it a disease.”
She added that birth control rejects the amazing opportunity for “taking part in a miracle, that of bringing a life into a world,” and instead “turns sexual relations into merely a contact sport.”
“Women deserve better,” she said.
Maria Montserrat Alvarado, director of operations for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, emphasized that the debate “is a First Amendment issue.”
She said that it is “completely untrue” to suggest that the current debate is a battle between the Catholic Church and American women.
Nor is it “an access issue,” she added, explaining that income-based clinics across the country already offer access to contraception for those who desire it.
Rather, she said, it is about the rights of religious individuals who deserve to be treated as full citizens.
“It’s not for the government to decide what qualifies as violating my own conscience,” added Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.
The American founders understood human nature and created a limited government in order to fight against the human “tendency” toward tyranny, Severino explained.
They knew that rights come from God, not the government, and they listed freedom of religion as the first of these cherished rights in the First Amendment, she said.
Severino denounced the modern idea that government has the authority to force people to violate their consciences: “That is the definition of tyranny.”