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Rival Lobby Campaigns Focus on Birth Control Mandate

Activists on both sides of the abortion debate have unleashed new ads and grass-roots lobbying drives in the ongoing fight over birth control requirements in the 2010 health care law.

A campaign dubbed “Birth Control: We All Benefit” launched by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America includes TV ads in Kentucky that targeted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

McConnell “wants to let bosses deny women birth control coverage even while men get their Viagra covered,” states a female narrator in the ad. Planned Parenthood released the ad after McConnell joined 10 other GOP senators in co-signing an amicus brief backing the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. in a legal challenge to the contraception mandate.

Unveiled last month, the Planned Parenthood effort concurs with a “Call2Conscience” campaign also launched in February by the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List. The Susan B. Anthony List campaign pulls together more than 50 like-minded groups focused on a legislative fix.

The “Call2Conscience” groups lobbied without success recently to block implementation of the contraception mandate as part of the House-approved continuing budget resolution. (Planned Parenthood and close to 40 allied groups weighed in against that effort.) Abortion opponents are now focused on a bill introduced by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, that aims to exempt employers with religious and conscience objections.

“If it’s in statute, it’s going to be way tougher for the courts to go after it,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “And so Congress is the linchpin.” She added that her group and its allies have set out to convince lawmakers to attach the Black bill to must-pass budget or other legislation.

The Affordable Care Act’s contraception provisions, which offer birth control coverage without a patient co-pay, have drawn fire since even before the law was enacted. Many religious organizations, abortion opponents and private sector employers object in particular to medications known as “morning-after pills” that they equate with abortion.

The Health and Human Services Department has repeatedly sought to accommodate those concerns by exempting religious entities and requiring insurers to pay for the services instead of employers. HHS announced its most recent compromise Feb. 1, triggering a 60-day public comment period.

But opponents still object, and more than 50 lawsuits have challenged the mandate in a legal battle that is expected to be resolved by the Supreme Court. Close to two dozen for-profit companies are among those bringing suit. Planned Parenthood has now set out to discredit some of those companies, including Hobby Lobby, Freshway Foods and the farming corporation Sharpe Holdings Inc., in a social media campaign lampooning the “Bosses of Birth Control” and delivering the message “Tell Them: You’re Not the Boss of Birth Control!”

“We know that when women have access to birth control, they benefit, their families benefit and we all benefit,” said Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood executive vice president and chief experience officer, in an email. “That is what we will continue to remind these politicians and bosses who insist that they should be the ones who decide if and when women can access birth control.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America, which in January installed Ilyse Hogue as its new president, has also engaged in an ongoing campaign to support the health care law’s contraceptive coverage, including some $250,000 in radio ads last year.

A broad array of players have jumped in on both sides of the issue. Abortion rights advocates have been joined by health care providers, women’s groups and civil rights groups, among others. On the flip side, abortion opponents have been joined by a wide range of private sector companies and religious liberties advocates, some of them relatively new to the abortion wars.

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