When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced legislation last week to repeal part of the Affordable Care Act requiring some religious institutions to offer their employees contraceptive services through their health insurance coverage, he found himself again at odds with two key constituencies: Catholics and Latinas/os.
Just a few weeks ago, the junior senator from Florida was the target of a campaign to raise awareness about his positions on immigration that are at odds with most Latinos. But, his latest policy proposal on birth control highlights yet another disconnection with two key constituencies this election year.
Rubio has always been known for his opposition to abortion, but he has started to heighten his involvement in reproductive health politics with a series of new statements. Last week, he told Politico: “I can tell you that none of my children were planned.”
In an opinion piece in the New York Post, Senator Rubio wrote: “… this will force Catholic organizations to make an unacceptable choice: Ignore a major tenet of their faith, or not provide any insurance to their employees and be punished with a federal fine for violating ObamaCare’s mandate on employers.”
Interestingly, this week the media cited Rubio’s Catholicism as a factor in prompting him to take a stand on this issue – but his own religious affiliation has been the subject of debate because of ties to the Southern Baptist-associated Christ Fellowship church.
This tangential information may illustrate a strategic maneuver by Senator Rubio to appeal to both evangelical and Catholic constituencies in his state.
But, getting back to Catholics, most of them (58%) agree with the idea that employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover birth control. Additionally, 98% of sexually active Catholic women have used some form of contraception that is banned by the Vatican; this is roughly the same amount as sexually active women in the general population (99%). For sexually active Catholic Latinas, 96% have used some form of contraception that is banned by the Vatican. Catholic women are making decisions about their health – and independent of church leaders.
Jon O’Brien, the President of Catholics for Choice, provided Politic365 with some perspective on Senator Rubio’s bill. “This is a huge contradiction that Senator Rubio is putting forth in advancing such a draconian bill,” argues O’Brien. “Asking the state to intervene on behalf of an interest group, in this case Catholic Bishops, is contrary to the Republican idea of people being able to pursue their own decisions free from government interference.”
“Additionally, Rubio is not considering the freedom of conscience in Catholic belief — the idea that individuals must follow his or her own conscience. 98% of sexually active Catholic women have used some form of birth control; these women have followed their conscience in determining how to care for their health,” explained O’Brien.
The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health has also weighed in on Senator Rubio’s bill and efforts to reverse contraceptive services being provided as a health benefit and how Latinas would be impacted.
Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, told Politic365 that “… it seems that Senator Rubio has prioritized scoring political points over supporting and standing up for women’s health.”
“Studies show that Latinas are overwhelmingly in favor of access to preventative care, including contraception,” added Gonzalez-Rojas. “Rubio’s bill, which goes against recommendations made by the Department of Health and Human Services, allows any employer to deny access to contraceptive coverage, on the grounds of religious belief. This bill would deny millions of women the right to make their own decisions about preventative care.”
Gonzalez-Rojas also explained that 40% of Latinas live without health insurance and that many cite the cost of prescription birth control as interfering with their ability to use it consistently. Her organization views Rubio’s bill as explicitly restricting access to a health service for women instead of perceiving it as a policy that helps them.
“Senator Rubio’s bill conflicts with the needs of the Latino/a community. We urge him to drop this bill, and shift toward issues of critical importance to the Latino/a community, such as expanding, not limiting, access to critical health care,” Gonzalez-Rojas contends.
As his name continues to surface as a possible Vice Presidential candidate on the GOP ticket, especially as someone who could draw evangelical voters uneasy with a Mormon nominee like Mitt Romney, Catholics and Latinos (and especially the women in both groups) will wonder why Rubio has chosen to align himself with a small group of Bishops instead of the masses.