Who Controls Birth Control?

RawStory brings us this great example on NBC’s Meet the Press of a conversation where framing noticeably switches course several times. Who do you think “won” the framing battle here? It is a great piece of video because it is such a dramatic demonstration of how evoking frames makes you empathetic to the framers mindset. Start watching around 1:00. You’ll hear conservative pundit David Brooks, accuse the Obama administration of infringing on religious freedom because he is demanding that insurance providers – religious or not – must cover birth control.  Brooks says that Obama is forcing a religious organization to go against a tenet. Maddow steps in and makes the case that because that religious organization decided to provide insurance, it must follow the same guidelines as other insurers, guidelines that follow a democratically supported position. Alex Castellanos, Republican strategist, counters with indignance; citing the message to Catholic hospitals and universities is “you can’t live you beliefs”. For him, religious freedom is the obvious frame from which to argue. He not-so-artfully segues this into a frame about government crowding out your private life.  Rep. Xavier BeCerra has a very natural and relaxed way in which he presents his frame. He stuck to the basic values of the argument where Maddow got a bit off course with campaign-think.  He clearly states that a religious organization should not have the same rights apply to it when it wants to become a business, as it enjoys as a church.

The strategist goes back to the frame of being able to choose your religion. He equates providing insurance with the first amendment right to choose your own religion. David Brooks trips over his tongue a bit, he doesn’t change the frame but offers an easy “out” for the president, this indicates placating gestures. He sets up a red herring of “being realistic”, as if it is not realistic to expect all similar industries to practice standards of operation. Maddow defends the frame, reminding us that, when serving as a church, churches do not have to practice anything prescribed.

Then Maddow does a “zoom-out“, and broadens the frame. She uses this hot issue as supporting evidence that a broader agenda is at play and this issue is only a piece of it. She goes on to cite the rhetoric against birth control as further evidence that the Republican party has an anti-birth control agenda. Shaking the frame up this much is a good debate move if you feel that you are in a strong position. A framing move like this puts the opponents on the defensive even more; they are answering the first frame and now must answer the second as well, or be seen as avoiding the issue.


Brook is correct in saying that the conservative media is certainly pushing the story of infringement on religious liberties by the Obama administration. The issue only seems to be able to grab headlines in conservative circles. This issue is significant in Republican circles because it brings together two of its factions and hopes to establish some kind of precedent. If it is established that the Catholic church can transfer its belief system into profit making insurance companies, the stage is set for universal control going to the entity that chooses to spend the resources. Policy was arrived at with democratic moral backing, most Americans believe that birth control is a basic health coverage need, for that matter, a Le Moyne College/Zogby International national poll in 2007 found 67 percent of American Catholics disagree with the church teaching that artificial birth control is wrong. What group of people are actually in charge of establishing the parameters of insurance providers in America? Where is the indignation coming from, parrishoners? clergy? Catholic admin? or Republican strategists?

“Choice” is a tricky contested concept. What has more bearing on the issue, the choice of a religious organization to turn insurance provider? The choice of an individual to receive care or education at a religiously supported entity? The choice of policymakers to adhere to their own version of appropriate services? The choice of an individual, once involved in the organization, to maintain their rights as an American receiving a basic standard of services? In this particular issue, there is a particular significance put on adolescents due to the hormonal surges, potential ignorance, and need for birth control; what about the choices of the underage and those that had no choice in the selection of their health care coverage? Who’s choice is the most important to preserve? In this instance of birth control, women usually have the final say on whether or not it will be used, how many women are a part of creating these “choices”?

Stay on the lookout for this issue, it has legs. It intertwines many frames and emotional trigger points; the possibility of it getting happily resolved in a bi-partisan manner is about zero. This will be a vehicle for conservatives to point out everything they see as wrong about a progressive point of view and what they call, “socialized medicine”.  Any issue that can motivate the pro-life/anti-choice crowd to come out and vote is a winner for Republicans, so this will be in the news for a while – especially among Catholic and socially conservative circles. This perfectly demonstrates how important values are over policy and issues. “Policy” is the fine detail, “issues” fill the need for substance, but “values” are where it’s at. Values get voters to come out of their hiding places to show up and vote on principle.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: