Taking a leaf out of Franklin D Roosevelt’s speech book, Congressman Mike Kelly from Pennsylvania and Congresswoman for New York Ann Marie Buerkle decided that yesterday – 1 August 2012 – was a day which will live in infamy.
For some elected officials, it marked a tragedy so huge that they likened it not only to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour that killed 2,400 people and brought the US into the Second World War but also to September 11th where the thousands killed and injured served as a catalyst for a lengthy war that is still being fought.
Now there’s no real need to panic. There were no acts of terrorism yesterday nor global combat situations sparked. Instead, the event that these two Republican members of the House of Representatives were outraged by was the change in law that allowed around 47 million women to access healthcare services including prenatal care, domestic violence counseling and most controversially, contraception.
Signed into law by President Obama on 23 March 2010, the Affordable Care Act has been updated to make preventative care accessible and affordable to all Americans by requiring health care plans to cover such services.
To many who live in countries where Bismarck’s concept of the welfare state is alive and well, this seems perfectly reasonable but in the US the issue is highly contentious.
Arguing their First Amendment right to religious freedom, many Catholic organisations are opposed to being forced to offer insurance coverage that includes contraception. And in Washington, it’s the Republicans who are adamantly against the reform, believing that allowing access to preventative measures like contraception forces people to violate their religious beliefs.
The issue is that debate has reached quite extreme levels of absurdity. From controversial radio host Rush Limbaugh’s despicable comments about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke in February to complaints surrounding the all-male congressional committee appointed to discuss contraception, representative Mike Kelly’s comments now align birth control with two of the most severe attacks on American soil.
No matter which side you’re on, it’s irresponsible for politicians to get their point across with such crude rhetoric. Rather than agree with a compromise on the issue that the Obama administration has already announced, opponents to healthcare reform are using it as a war cry for prospective voters. And while some Democrats have already issued criticism of Kelly’s comments, their party has used the Republican standpoint to accuse the GOP of leading a “war on women.”
With such extreme arguments afloat, it’s no surprise that many of the 41 million Americans who tuned into the Olympic opening ceremony last week were confused and surprised by Danny Boyle’s 10-minute salute to the British National Health Service. But perhaps Washington can learn something from the fact that after 64 years, albeit many of them turbulent, the NHS is an institution still thought worthy of celebration.
I doubt anyone in the US would devote millions to a song and dance dedicated to the businessmen and lobbyists behind their health insurance companies.