Most healthcare plans will be required to cover birth control without charging co-pays or deductibles starting Aug. 1, the Obama administration announced Friday. The final regulation retains the approach federal health officials proposed last summer, despite the deluge of complaints from religious groups and congressional Republicans that has poured in since then. Churches, synagogues and other houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, but religious-affiliated hospitals and universities only get a one-year delay and must comply by Aug. 1, 2013. – The Hill

Viagra has been covered in health care policies for years. Now, the Obama administration has instructed the Department of Health and Human Services that universal contraceptive coverage will now be part of every employers health care plan. An exception will be made for religious zealots, represented by Rick Santorum and the anti birth control contingent on the religious right, which lives in both political parties.

Pres. Obama’s Affordable Care Act is not a great bill, so don’t get me started. However, there are really important parts of it worth praising. What the right likes to call Obamacare covers preventive health services for free for women, with the definition of what that means a step by step process. The announcement today on contraceptive coverage is one of those steps.

As a reminder, here’s part of what was announced in August 2011:

Today’s announcement builds on that progress by making sure women have access to a full range of recommended preventive services without cost sharing, including:

  • well-woman visits;
  • screening for gestational diabetes;
  • human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing for women 30 years and older;
  • sexually-transmitted infection counseling;
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening and counseling;
  • FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling;
  • breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling; and
  • domestic violence screening and counseling.

I’m all for applauding this action, but as a liberal, I find the notion of universal birth control a public health issue, for which there should be no religious exception for institutions. That should be a personal choice issue, not an institutional one. I also believe that universal health care is a right, not a privilege. Unfortunately, if you’re poor it’s the latter.

For the bots ready to blow, this isn’t about Pres. Obama, because any Democratic president would be offering this very thing, with the religious exception, because that’s what the big two parties are all about, the larger public and good of the poor always secondary. So, excuse me if I find any applause as silly as cheering for the Lily Ledbetter Act, which is the bare minimum women of all political parties should expect from our politicians in the second decade of the 21st century.

But for some reason women in this country are always satisfied with less, putting political allegiances above issues of equality that should bring all women together. Partisanship separates us from accomplishing the biggest goals, which include bringing poor women into the fold, which can only happen through universal health care.

To drive home the point of just how backward our country remains, read Sarah Posner on the challenges already moving against the Obama administration’s sanity:

UPDATE: The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, which, as I reported in my long religious freedom piece, represents both a Catholic college and an evangelical university in challenging the rule, has issued a statement (tellingly calling the rule an “abortion drug mandate”) claiming that the rule will not withstand constitutional scrutiny. As other observers have noted, opponents of the contraception mandate have claimed that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor, which recognized a “ministerial exception” that prevents churches from being by “ministerial” employees under federal employment discrimination laws. The Beckett Fund makes this argument in its statement, but legal observers have noted the narrow holding in that case. The opponents of the Obama administration decision like the Beckett Fund does in its statement, will attempt to make the Hosanna-Tabor into a broad statement against government interference in church affairs in an attempt to bolster their claims against the contraception mandate.

Release the lawyers and let them fight it out.

We’re allowing serious encroachment into freedoms won through Griswold and Roe v. Wade already, something I write about at length in my book, in the chapter “Is Freedom Just for Men?” People on both sides are afraid of the outcome. It’s time Americans see in the light of day what’s happening in secret across this country, which amped up after Democrats blew the 2010 midterm elections, releasing an assault on unions, the middle class, as well as a war on women from the right.

This issue is one reason I find Ron Paul’s squeals of liberty absurd, even hypocritical. He makes a mockery of his Libertarian stance when he puts himself on the side of the freedom is just for men crowd. He said in the debate that abortion is violent and he’s against violence. I guess he never considers the violence that hits a woman who is hit with an unwanted pregnancy she can’t handle. Has he never seen a poor woman in the throes of this type of destruction? Can he not imagine her anguish? Unfortunately, very few politicians can today, because we have a dearth of truly inspiring and compassionate leaders.

Women’s individual freedom is actually a conservative notion. Don’t tread on me and individual rights, which are heralded as sacrosanct on the right by conservatives, stop when it comes to a woman’s own freedoms for them, but as we saw in the health care debate, for Democrats, too. Why people don’t see this hypocrisy for what it is astounds me.

Music provided by the great chirp Etta James who passed away today.