With that word, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi gleefully delivered a fatal blow to her Republican colleagues who had launched a major political battle against the contraception mandate issued by President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Pelosi was referring to her Republican colleagues who held a congressional hearing earlier that day to discuss the controversial mandate’s impact on religious freedom. “Five men are testifying on women’s health,” Pelosi said incredulously. “Where are the women? Imagine having a panel on women’s health and they don’t have any women on the panel.”
The panel wasn’t on women’s health, it was on religious liberty. The hearing began with one priest, three pastors, and a Jewish rabbi who calmly explained that they would rather disobey the federal mandate, than violate their faith. Later in the hearing, the panel featured two women, one from a Christian university and one from a religious hospital who agreed that the mandate would pose a dilemma for people of faith.
The Democratic leadership side-stepped the debate by changing the subject. Republicans argued that they did have women on the panel, but they watched helplessly as Pelosi pushed past religious concerns, and into a debate that fit her terms.
The Republican “White Knights” who rallied to defend the constitutional right to freedom of religion were quickly labeled as feckless idiots who cared more about politics than women.
When the debate started, Republicans saw the fight for religious liberty as a political slam dunk. The HHS mandate would force individuals to pay for services that violated their faith. Contraception, abortifaciants, and sterilization operations would now be funded by all business owners, regardless of religious preference.
Catholics bishops spoke boldly against the mandate from the pulpit, alarming members of the media who in turn raised awareness of an overbearing federal government attacking the Catholic Church. Republicans followed. It appeared that Obama had overstepped his boundaries and would pay a heavy political price for his audacity.
Just as quickly as Republicans took up the battle flag for religious liberty, they hastily tugged it down after Pelosi’s attack. With no one left to lead a counter-attack, Pelosi joined with her pro-choice allies and fellow activist Sandra Fluke to embarrass Republicans thoroughly in the realm of public opinion.
Few stood in the way of the group’s messaging battle. Rush Limbaugh, one of the few public figures trying to ridicule the controversy, failed miserably after using a crude satirical monologue that was ugly and improper. Those words were used as a club against Republicans who ducked out of sight until the damaging news cycle passed.
As a historic defender of abortion on demand, under the guise of “women’s health,” Pelosi effortlessly put Republicans on their heels, using every political weapon at her disposal. Senate majority leader Harry Reid allowed a vote on the Blunt Amendment, knowing that enough Democrats would vote in favor of tabling the legislation. The Republican leadership scrambled back to more politically expedient issues such as gas prices and the economy.
Defenders of the mandate boldly proclaimed that the to right to free contraception was more important the right to religious freedom. That argument could have been challenged and defeated. Republicans began as self-proclaimed champions who took up the cause of religious freedom, a founding principle of our constitution worthy of a full-throated defense. They ended the battle labeled as political opportunists fighting a war against women.
You don’t lose that kind of battle, unless you surrender.