Neera Tanden writes today that our recent contraception debate is basically the end point of a trap set by liberals over a decade ago: in the wake of the partial-birth abortion debacle of the late 90s, Hillary Clinton held a meeting of women's groups in which she urged them to shift the debate toward coverage of contraception in healthcare plans. "And if that debate took place in a way that demonstrated the extremes of the anti-choice position—so be it."
I'm a little skeptical that a single meeting 14 years ago was really the root cause of today's fight, but who know? Maybe it was. More interesting, I think, is the evidence that it wasn't really much of a trap because initially the religious right didn't especially care about it:
It was a Republican Senator, Olympia Snowe, who introduced the Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act (which lacked any sort of “conscience exception”) in 1999, and plenty of Republicans co-sponsored it.
....[In 2000, legislation in New York] — like the original Obama policy — only allowed an exemption for houses of worship, not religiously affiliated hospitals or colleges, perhaps because its authors recognized that the vast majority of employees at these institutions are not Catholic. But the Catholic Church did not actively resist, or try to prevent the bill’s passing....And, in some states, religious groups were silent altogether. In 1999, New Hampshire passed a law requiring contraceptive coverage in all prescription drug plans. (The law was passed by a Republican legislature and signed by a Democratic governor.) Both lawmakers and religious groups never raised the issue of religious liberty during the legislative debate; in fact, there was not a single discussion on that issue according to the legislative history.
Back in the late 70s it was Jerry Falwell and a few others who converted an evangelical movement that was only moderately anti-abortion into the virulent pro-life activists of today. I'm not sure if there's a specific person, or small group of people, who are similarly responsible for this latest turn, but it resembles the previous one in a lot of ways. A decade ago, contraception wasn't a big deal, even among conservative Christians. Today it's a litmus test and the latest battleground in the culture wars.
So what's next?