.- 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.
The controversial new mandate would require employers to purchase health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
The mandate has sparked a storm of protest from those who argue it infringes upon the constitutionally-protected freedom of religion. The U.S. bishops along with several academic institutions and numerous religious groups have called for legislation to repeal the regulation.
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.
U.S. House 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.
Over 2000 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 percent of Republican women, up 13 percent since January.
The poll also revealed that only 40 percent of Democratic women view Santorum unfavorably, while Mitt Romney is viewed unfavorably by 55 percent and Newt Gingrich is viewed unfavorably by 63 percent.
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,” she said.