During a recent town hall meeting, Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, argued with a group of young women over a new mandate from the federal government requiring health insurance companies to cover birth control as preventative care. During the debate, he argued that birth control is not a part of health care, telling one woman that she was “missing the point” when she argued otherwise.
The past few months have seen a dust up between the Obama administration and a handful of religious leaders and Republicans, who claim religious organizations should not have to provide services that are contrary to their beliefs. Recently, opponents have gone so far as to call upon the president to repeal the decision altogether.
The federal government’s decision last year to include birth control was a suggestion from the Institute of Medicine. Women’s health advocates have long praised the federal health department’s inclusion of birth control in its list of required preventative care in health plans.
A group of women in the crowd during the town hall meeting asked Stearns what women should do if their employers denied them birth control coverage. He responded that the real issue at hand was whether the federal government should be mandating coverage of birth control to “private companies” and “religious organizations that do not believe in birth control.”
Stearns also said that women could pay for the birth control for themselves if they really needed it.
A handful of women spoke out against his position during the meeting, arguing that not all women could afford birth control. One woman questioned whether it was even good policy to let religious beliefs determine what a health policy should cover.
“Do you think that somebody that works for a company that doesn’t believe in blood transfusions, or things like that, that you should deny people’s children blood transfusions?” she asked Stearns.
Stearns replied that a “blood transfusion is a little different than a contraceptive.”
“You don’t see the difference between a blood transfusion and contraceptive?” he asked.
In her reply, the woman said she had relied on birth control pills since she was 12 year old, because of hormonal issues that could have caused her to bleed “to death” when she was younger– therefore making birth control as essential to her survival as a blood transfusion would be to another person.
Stearns told the woman she was “missing the point,” and that women could take shots for hormone therapy instead of using birth control.
Recent studies have found that 14 percent of birth control pill users take the pill for non-contraceptive purposes.
Stearns, who chairs a subcommittee on oversight and investigations in the U.S. House of Representatives, has already been criticized by women’s health advocates for launching a “politically motivated” investigation into Planned Parenthood. In September of last year, Stearns asked the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, for the organization’s financial and policy records as part of his investigation.
Stearns’ investigation followed the release of a report that argued that lawmakers should defund the chain of women’s health clinics. The report was written by Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group. While Planned Parenthood has called the report false and “ideologically driven,” Stearns ultimately capitulated to the group.
In a separate town hall meeting held last month, Stearns raised eyebrows when he questioned the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate.
You can watch a video of the town hall discussion below, courtesy of the Florida Political Action Cooperative: