At CPAC, leaders urge steering birth control conversation toward abortion

Stop talking about birth control. That was the key message from some of the most prominent leaders of America's anti-abortion movement, speaking Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference. During a talk on how to advance the movement through messaging, an all-female panel discussed the Obama administration's birth-control-coverage mandate and suggested that the best way to defeat it is by calling it an "abortion mandate."

The panel was moderated by Live Action President Lila Rose and included Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest, Students for Life of America Executive Director Kristan Hawkins, National Right to Life President Carol Tobias, and Rebecca Kiessling, an attorney who advocates against rape exceptions in anti-abortion legislation. Kiessling, who is adopted, found out later in life that she was conceived after her birth mother was raped.

"This new situation that's coming down [from the Obama administration] is actually an abortion mandate," Yoest said. "As an organization we're going to be more disciplined about talking about the abortion mandate coming from HHS and I would encourage you all to do the same."

Yoest, Hawkins and Tobias all said that their organizations do not take a position on birth control, only on emergency birth control. Anti-abortion activists believe emergency birth control drugs like Plan B and Ella can cause abortions, something that is disputed by the drug-makers, the federal government, and abortion-rights activists.

An obstetrician-gynecologist in the audience who said she works for a religiously affiliated institution, likened taking emergency birth control to going to a playground where 100 kids are playing and shooting one of them. It's a one-in-100 chance that taking an emergency birth control pill will kill a fetus, the doctor said.

"I would encourage you not to let this become a debate over birth control," Tobias said. "I truly believe the mandate from HHS was a deliberate attempt by the Obama administration to get a discussion in this country right before the election over whether men controlling the Catholic church can tell women whether or not to take birth control. That's the debate they want. We need to bring it back. This is religious freedom. If they can tell the Catholic Church that they have to provide contraception to their employees, then they can also tell National Right to Life that we have to provide abortions for our employees."

About the same time that the women were speaking, the Obama administration was announcing what was billed as a compromise to religious groups opposing the mandate. The administration is now promising to introduce a policy that if a woman works for a religious employer that objects to providing contraceptive services in its health plan, the employer will not be required to cover her contraceptive costs. However, her insurance company will be required to offer contraceptive care for free.

"Liberals say keep your morals out of the bedroom, yet the President's plan forces everyone to pay the cost for someone else's contraceptive use in the bedroom," said FRC President Tony Perkins in the statement. "That's not freedom, it's a mandate.

"This revised HHS mandate does nothing to change the fundamentally anti-religious, anti-conscience and anti-life contraceptive mandate," he continued. "It rather only creates some paperwork gimmicks that don't change the fact that religious employers who object to coverage of these services will now have to drop health insurance altogether to maintain their conscience and face severe penalties for doing so."

On the CPAC stage, Kiessling said the Obama administration's mandate is ironic.

"[People are always saying to] stay out of their bedroom; this is basically inviting others into their bedroom, wanting others to pay for what they're doing in the bedroom," she said. "I mean, really, what else do you want us to pay for? Do you want us to pay for condoms, too?"

Photo: Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada