Stephanie Grace: Jindal right on birth control the first time

You know what? Bobby Jindal was right the first time.

The governor was right after President Barack Obama was re-elected pretty handily and the Republicans failed to take control of the Senate. Back when he argued that the Republicans had been “stupid to let the Democrats demagogue the contraceptives issue and pretend, during debates about health care insurance, that Republicans are somehow against birth control” — which, he insisted, is absolutely not the case.

Back when he argued that contraception is a “personal matter,” and the person he was referring to was the woman trying to avoid unwanted pregnancy, not the company that happened to employ her.

Jindal’s proposed solution, outlined in his December 2012 Wall Street Journal opinion column headlined “The End of Birth-Control Politics,” was to heed a new recommendation by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to make the pill available over the counter. That way, he argued, the employer would be out of the equation, oral contraceptives would be easy to acquire and competition would help keep prices down.

The idea went nowhere, perhaps because the process of changing classification would take years or perhaps because it just didn’t catch. For whatever reason, Jindal moved on.

But his overall argument, that a woman’s health care should not hinge on her boss’ opinions and that the whole matter should be depoliticized, was a good one then.

And it’s a good one now, after the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that family-owned businesses such as Hobby Lobby can sidestep the law’s requirement and refuse to cover several forms of contraception that its owners believe cause abortions (an interpretation that scientists refute).

Not that Jindal’s making that case anymore.

Rather than looking for ways to solve problems, Jindal’s in full culture-warrior mode these days. When he speaks of birth control, he not only endorses companies’ refusal to cover contraception, he also cites the mandate as an example of how the government is waging a war on religion.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s majority decision was actually closer to Jindal’s 2012 piece than to his later speeches. Alito noted that there’s already a mechanism in place to bypass religious employers by transferring the cost of contested coverage to the insurance company. Alternatively, he wrote, the government could step in and pay.

Yet the court has already undermined his assertion by granting an emergency injunction to an evangelical college that claimed the very workaround Alito cited violated its religious freedom. And anyone who thinks the Obama administration will be able to just step in and provide the benefit without a huge fight hasn’t been paying attention.

Jindal was one of many Republicans to endorse the decision and focus exclusively on the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby.

“What this decision affirms is that the American belief in freedom of religion still protects the rights of all Americans to live in accordance with their religion, and that these deeply held religious beliefs are more important than the whims and demands of government,” he wrote, making no mention of the freedom of the affected women.

Hillary Clinton joined many Democrats in focusing on the employees instead.

“It is very troubling that a salesclerk at Hobby Lobby who needs contraception — which is pretty expensive — is not going to get that service through her employer’s health care plan because her employer doesn’t think she should be using contraception,” Clinton said. “Many more companies will claim religious beliefs, and some will be sincere, but others maybe not. And we’re going to see this one insurable service cut out from many women.”

And so much for not reliving 2012, when the GOP’s rhetoric over reproductive issues allowed the Democrats to accuse their opponents of waging a war on women. Treating access to birth control so dismissively may play to the primary voters Jindal’s now targeting. But among the larger electorate, it’s a losing strategy.

Jindal was right about that the first time, too.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes. Follow her on Twitter @stephgracenola.