President Obama's 2013 State of the Union address has overall been deemed a success. He covered many of the hot-button issues, catered to his base on ambitious policy proposals, and managed to do it all without taking a single gulp of water. In other words, he was a hard act to follow.
He discussed national defense, the budget and deficit, the economy, education, and briefly touched on health care. Disappointing to many, he did not discuss abortion and contraception at all. Instead, he appealed to female constituents by encouraging equal pay in the workplace and praising the renewal of Vice President Biden's Violence Against Women Act by the Senate. Of course, passage of the bill in the Senate is a feat. It is in Obama's best interest to publicize that to the American people to put pressure on the House. Even still, though, abortion and contraception are important issues that warrant mention.
The landmark decision of Roe v. Wade celebrated its 40th anniversary this past month. In response, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared to March for Life participants that he would make it a national priority to "help make abortion a relic of the past." This promise announced by one of the most powerful men in Washington is enough to know that Obama has not won on the issue of women's reproductive rights. While it is highly unlikely that the decision will be overturned, states are already restricting access and passing tougher legislation concerning abortion access. Oregon is the only state that has not added restrictions onto its interpretation of Roe v. Wade. Oklahoma is the most restrictive state with laws including waiting periods, parental involvement, and reducing the amount of abortion providers —to name a few.
The contraception debate also continues. The provision in Obamacare that was challenged by Catholic employers has since been modified, but enforcement and outcomes remain to be seen. The law first expected religiously affiliated non-profits to comply with the provision that requires their health plans to cover contraception. As the rules have been modified, the religious affiliates no longer have to pay but they must ensure that their employees have access to contraceptive care from health insurers. With the uncertainty leading up to that alteration in the law, and impending enforcement, the issue is surely not in the past.
I do not believe it will be difficult for the president to ultimately succeed on these issues. We know they are important to him, as women were essential to his reelection victory. Furthermore, the fact that the men of the Republican Party can't seem to grasp the facts when discussing women's reproductive health. Tina Fey said it best, "if I have to listen to one more gray-faced man with a two-dollar hair cut explain to me what rape is, I'm gonna lose my mind." Many Americans agree with this sentiment. Even Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has said the GOP is becoming the "stupid party." Despite the discrediting comments of those men and the entrenched nature of Roe v. Wade, there is still a ways to go in improving access and quality of women's health care. Therefore, the president should have acknowledged the issue that motivated so many to vote for him last November.