So what does one do when, on short notice, one has the opportunity to interview the President of the United States?
First, thank the powers that be. Second, panic. Third, remember that he is a human being just like any one else. Fourth, prepare – quickly!
The “round table” discussion was set for moments after the President had delivered his appeal to women voters, at a rally of about 4000, in the Events Center of the Auraria Campus last Wednesday, August 8th. It would be attended only by myself and Durango Herald columnist, Meghan Graham.
Women’s health is not only a women’s issue or a health issue, but an economic issue. President Obama stressed at the rally.
True, but the loudest cheer from the mostly female audience came when Mr. Obama declared that decisions affecting a woman’s health are “not up to politicians, they’re not up to insurance companies, they’re up to you!”
As a long-time reproductive health and rights activist, it was this issue I pressed in our interview:
What, for example, in the reproductive health area, would be the long term differences, for your daughters as they enter adulthood, between four more years of your presidency and a four year term of a Gov. Romney presidency, I asked?
Although the President’s voice was soft (saving it for the next rally, he said apologetically) his words were both passionate and articulate:
“All the steps we have taken in the Affordable Care Act are going to have a direct impact on women of every age, certainly on young women… Women are much more likely to drop out of work force temporarily for child rearing. Then it becomes more difficult for them to get health insurance when they get back in…. So being able to keep or get insurance is going to make an enormous difference for generations to come, he said.
“Mr. Romney has been very clear that he will repeal the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact it’s working very well in Massachusets. (He pauses and grins at this point) And he has not at all been clear as to how he would replace it.
“We have a Supreme Court that has obviously proved to be very conservative. Actuarially, it is likely that the next President will have some appointments… which will affect reproductive health and other issues that women face.
“It is not an understatement that that Mr. Romney’s judicial philosophy and mine are quite different He has pledged to appoint judges whom he is confident will overturn Roe v. Wade, which will obviously have a have big impact.”
The President went on to say that Romney has gone even further than that, endorsing amendments in state constitutions that not only deny abortion in all cases, but also curtail the use of some kinds of contraception.
“I think this takes us backwards instead of forwards,” he says, shaking his head in emphasis.
Megan Graham then followed up with some queries on the conflict between individual health rights and religious liberty.
“Look, these are important questions,” responded the President. “Religious liberty is one of the essential tenets of this country. In designing the Affordable Care Act, we thought long and hard about how we accommodate religious institutions, but also (how we) make sure that individual women are being treated fairly. I think the balance we struck was the right one.
“Essentially every woman should have contraception as part of her insurance package…. This was not something we initiated just for ideological reasons. This was a recommendation by the Institute of Medicine and doctors. … Health care professionals said that this is something that will save lives and reduce costs.
“Then what we said is that … we will have an accommodation for religiously affiliated institutions so that they don’t have to pay for contraception, they don’t have to promote contraception. All they have to do is to just let the insurance company provide it as part of a package.
“I continue to be a strong believer in conscience clauses, so that employees in Catholic hospitals should not have to engage in providing services that would be a violation of their religion.
“But I also think that large institutions that employ an awful lot of folks that are of different faiths and who receive a lot of public dollars have to take into account, as well, the interests of their employees.
“And this is not a small matter!” the President exclaimed. “In contraception you might be talking about hundreds of dollars, maybe even more… this is a big chunk of (some people’s) income. That can make a big difference in your life.”
Yes! I thought as the President rose to leave.
Then, only wishing (silently) that the President had been a little more specific about how a Romney Presidency as opposed to his own, would affect the future lives of his daughters, I thanked the him for his time. So did Graham.
How would I rate the President as an articulate interviewee? Probably a nine out of ten.
And how would I rate Graham and myself as interviewers? Well, we didn’t faint.
Dottie Lamm, former first lady of Colorado, and 1998 Colorado Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, is a member of Colorado Women for Obama.
A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the Denver Post.