I am a woman and I’m offended.
I am offended that, once again, parties in positions of power have decided to pretend that all women are cut from the same political cloth. I am alarmed that religion is increasingly seen not as a vibrant good in our democracy but as a mere sideshow for nostalgic people or citizens in need of a crutch. This White House may defend your freedom to worship inside your church, but not to practice your faith if it collides with its radical agenda. I am offended that the Catholic Church has been attacked as being anti-woman; this is a church in which strong women such as Sister Elizabeth Ann Seton built a world-class school and hospital system for immigrants and the poor in a less-than-welcoming environment. I am offended that my government would penalize these women in the future, telling them they cannot be who they are called to be and telling them their consciences will be what the state dictates is proper.
Liberal Democratic women ask, “Where are the women?” — ignoring women who have publicly opposed the coercive mandate in hearings and letters and protests of various sorts. And, just for the record, there is yet another answer to their question: Women are in the pope’s prayers. Every month, the pope issues a list of general prayer intentions, and this month he leads with: “That the whole world may recognise the contribution of women to the development of society.” The prayer reflects a rich tradition of respect for women, a faith in which a woman, Mary of Nazareth, is honored and cherished daily in churches around the world, and in which women love, serve, and lead in pursuing the fullest freedom.
And I am deeply offended by what is being said about men. A few good men have stuck their necks out lately in defense of religious freedom in America, and they deserve to be thanked and defended as they counter a dedicated campaign of dishonesty, hysteria, and raw bigotry.
Reasonable women cannot remain silent as the secretary of state of the United States pretends that America under a President Santorum or Romney would be an oppressive society for women. Or as a New York Times columnist echoes her, insisting that good men protecting conscience rights are “cavemen,” and that “Republican men” are trying to “wrestle American women back into chastity belts” in an “insane bout of mass misogyny.” Or as Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, calls the U.S. Catholic bishops “violently anti-woman.”
This is miserable, insulting, desperate stuff. It’s just not right, and women of reason cannot let it stand.
And we won’t. Standing alongside men like Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York and Bishop William Lori of Connecticut is a cavalry of women — a new sisterhood that challenges the feminist establishment, which has always appeared preoccupied with abortion, most recently in advocating for this HHS mandate that will force monks and nuns to purchase insurance plans that include abortion-inducing drugs. There are vocal women leading the opposition to the mandate, but we are ignored by the Left because we don’t pass their ideological test. We include members of Congress (Senator Kelly Ayotte, Representative Marsha Blackburn), former ambassador and Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon, radio talk-show host and former Supreme Court clerk Laura Ingraham, doctors, lawyers, nuns, and fresh young faces at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and elsewhere. When you start to realize this, and when you hear these women on social and other media — even on C-SPAN! — you begin to realize that the “women’s health” talk is really just a cynical political ploy to divide Americans in an election year.
Hillary Clinton warns that her political opponents “want to control how [women] act,” and “even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies.” That, of course, is not what Rick Santorum — to take one of the most prominent targets of the Left’s scorn — wants to do. He might have talked about the downsides of contraception in a far-reaching Web interview before the national media had time for him, and he might even do so when prompted on stage, but he is not going to issue mandates to enforce his views. Ironically, it is only this White House that is attempting the heavy-handed mandating of mores that collide with the conscience of Americans who choose to live differently.
As the president accuses others of using religion as a bludgeon, he ought to reflect on the division he has created. And those who oppose the HHS mandate ought to be as relentless as those waving a “War on Women” banner in its defense. President Obama is counting on discerning women to be demure as he and his allies try to scare single women into voting Democratic in the November elections. Women should not be intimidated. We’re in a fight for a foundational principle — a first freedom — and the stakes are too high to give in to the cynical charge that we’re engaging in a “war on women.”
This is a not a war on women, and it shouldn’t become a war on men. This isn’t a battle of the sexes, but a fight for freedom as we have known it in America. It is a fight for the conscience rights that we had before this administration changed them with a stroke of a bureaucratic pen. And if we’re to have a fighting chance to preserve the liberty we have enjoyed here as a beacon for those who suffer under real oppression, we had all better get out of the cave in which mandate supporters hope we’ll hide, and be clear and confident about in what we are preserving. We must do it together, for women and men of any faith and of no faith.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.