Volunteers promote Republican presidential hopefuls as America's political right gathers for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The economy might have been at the forefront when organizers constructed the schedule for this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but the the Obama administration's announcement that certain religious-affiliated organizations would not be exempted from contraception coverage galvanized social conservatives.
Almost every politician took the opportunity to grandstand against the president. "The federal government does not have the power to force religious organizations to pay for things that an organization thinks is wrong," Marco Rubio said to thunderous applause in a prominent address on the confab's opening morning.
The Obama administration's compromise on the contraception rule—that the responsibility for providing contraceptive services would fall to insurance providers rather than religious-affiliated institutions—did little to quell the outrage. "It’s not about contraception—its about economic freedom, it’s about religious freedom. It is about government controlling your life, and it’s got to stop," Rick Santorum said in a clear attempt to bill himself as the religious right's candidate the week he has jumped ahead of Mitt Romney in national polls.
Others said that President Barack Obama may have reversed course for the moment but would unleash a torrent of anti-religious policy should he reach a second term.
"This is a man who is deeply committed. If he wins re-election, he will wage war on the Catholic Church the morning after he is re-elected," Newt Gingrich said late Friday afternoon. "We cannot trust him—we know who he really is."
Speakers on the main stage may have wrapped their attacks in the language of religious freedom, but discussions at side panels made it clear that many CPACers simply don't want contraception being promoted at all.
A Friday panel featuring cast members from the Citizens United film "The Gift of Life" was described as a discussion of how the pro-life movement can take advantage of the media, but the conversation segued into attacks against birth control itself.
The panel closed with a visibly pregnant family physician explaining her evolving pro-life stance. "Many forms of contraception do indeed function as abortifacients," she said, arguing that use of emergency contraception is akin to taking a gun to a playground and shooting 1 out of 100 children, the rate she says contraception works as abortion.
The panelists were sympathetic to her opposition to the pill, and while each clarified that their respective groups do not take an explicit stand on birth control, it was evident that all were opposed to the common forms of hormonal contraceptives. "This new situation that is coming up is actually an abortion mandate," said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, about the Obama administration's rule on birth-control coverage. Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life, said that she is often asked why her group does not explicitly oppose birth control and explained that it is easier to convince newcomers to oppose abortion and then "[work] backwards to the contraception issue."
"We're going to be against abortion, and we're going to talk about that," Hawkins said. "Because we're going to have a lot of kids who joined the Students for Life groups on campus who never thought that the birth-control pill could cause abortion, because no one has told them that." She said that Plan B and Ella have presented new opportunities for her group to explain why students should oppose the birth-control pill since they're the "same chemicals."
Outright opposition to birth control is a view shared by few Americans. Polls around the recent controversy have indicated that a majority favors health-care providers covering contraception, and even Catholics support the policy by a 53-44 split according to Public Policy Polling. Studies have found that 99 percent of women will use some form of birth control over the course of their life.