Women's support for Obama drops in wake of HHS mandate

President Barack Obama CNA US Catholic News 3 13 12 President Barack Obama.

A recent poll shows that President Barack Obama's approval ratings dropped 12 percentage points among women voters, despite claims that a federal contraception mandate would help his bid for re-election.

“It’s definitely something that young women are concerned about,” said Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America.

Hawkins told CNA on March 13 that beyond just contraception or abortion, the mandate touches on the issue of religious freedom, which is clear to any woman in the U.S. “whether she’s religious or not.”

“It goes too far,” she said, adding that women are beginning to ask fundamental questions about what the government would be able to regulate next if this mandate were to succeed.

In recent weeks, political analysts have suggested that Obama’s re-election campaign will receive a significant boost in women's votes due to its support for a controversial federal contraception mandate.

But a New York Times/CBS News poll shows that Obama's approval rating among women has plummeted at three times the rate as men within the last few weeks.

The poll, conducted March 7-11, revealed that the president's approval rating among Americans has fallen from 50 percent last month to an all-time low of 41 percent.

While Obama’s approval rating dipped just four percentage points among men, it dropped by 12 percentage points among women.

The decrease in women's support comes amid debate over a Jan. 20 mandate issued by the Obama administration under the new health care law. Introduced by the Department of Health and Human Services, the mandate will soon require employers to offer health care plans that include full coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.

Faced with a storm of protest from those who argued that the mandate violated First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom, President Obama promised an “accommodation” for religious freedom on Feb. 10.

Under the “accommodation,” which was never incorporated into the original mandate, religious employers would not directly buy the controversial coverage but would instead purchase health care plans from insurance companies that would be required to provide it free of charge.

Critics of the promised “accommodation” note that under such an arrangement, insurance companies would likely raise employers’ premiums in order to account for the “free” coverage, effectively passing the cost of the coverage back to the employers who object to it.

The U.S. bishops and numerous other groups have called for legislation to either overturn the mandate or implement an effective religious exemption.

Majorities of both men and women in the New York Times / CBS News poll also voiced support for religious and moral exemptions to the mandate.

Those polled believe by a 57 percent to 36 percent margin that religiously-affiliated employers should able to “opt out” of covering the full cost of birth control and related drugs if they have object to doing so. 

Fifty-one percent say they support an exemption for all employers who have religious or moral objections to the mandate.

The poll findings come as the Obama administration launched increased efforts within the last week to bolster support among women voters by appealing to the healthcare law. On March 12, more than 1 million mailings were sent to women nationwide in separate versions for mothers, older women and young women, reported the New York Times. 

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Hawkins said that her organization is “comprised of mostly young women” who see the religious freedom concerns being raised by the mandate and do not accept the administration’s claims that it is looking out for women’s health.

She pointed out the irony in the fact that she, as the employer of a pro-life organization that seeks to end abortion, would be required under the mandate to offer an insurance plan that covers abortion-causing drugs.

“There’s no freedom at that point,” she said.

Hawkins said she has “pro-choice” friends as well who oppose the mandate for forcing people to violate their consciences. They realize that the mandate is “not about contraception” and “not about women’s health,” she said.

She also decried the efforts of those who have been “using women’s health” to promote the mandate, stressing “they’re not doing it for me.”

Hawkins encouraged women to take an active role in the political battle by contacting their Congressmen and making their voices heard.

When people are talking about the upcoming elections, they should be talking about this issue, she said, adding that men and men should work together to show the Obama administration that “this is not the will of the American people.”

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