Kathryn Lopez

I am woman, and I'm offended.

I am offended that, once again, parties in positions of power have decided to pretend that all women are cut from the same political cloth. I am offended, and alarmed, that religion is seen increasingly by many of those same parties not as a vibrant good in our democracy, but as a mere sideshow for nostalgic people or citizens in need of a crutch.

I am offended that the Catholic Church has been attacked as being anti-woman -- the same church in which strong women like Sister Elizabeth Ann Seton built a world-class education system for the poor in a less-than-welcoming environment. I am offended that my government would penalize religious women like Seton in the future, telling them they cannot be who they are called to be; telling them their consciences must be dictated by the state.

And I am deeply offended about what is being said about men. A few good men have stuck their necks out lately in defense of religious freedom in America, and they deserve to be thanked and defended as they counter a dedicated campaign of dishonesty, hysterics and even raw bigotry.

Reasonable women cannot remain silent as the secretary of state pretends that the U.S. under a President Santorum or Romney would be an oppressive state for women. Or as a New York Times columnist echoes her, insisting that good men protecting conscience rights are "cavemen," and that Republican men are trying to "wrestle American women back into chastity belts" in an "insane bout of mass misogyny." Or as Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, calls the U.S. Catholic bishops "violently anti-woman."

This is miserable, insulting, desperate stuff. It's just not right. Women of reason cannot let it stand, and we're not.

Standing alongside men like Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop William Lori of Connecticut are a cavalry of women, a new sisterhood that challenges the feminist establishment that has always appeared preoccupied with abortion. There are vocal women leading the opposition to the mandate, but they're often ignored by the left because we don't pass their ideological test. We include Sen. Kelly Ayotte, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, former ambassador and Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon, and radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham, along with doctors, lawyers, religious sisters and fresh young faces at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and elsewhere.

When you start to realize this, when you hear these women on social media and C-SPAN, you begin to realize that the "women's health" talk is really just a cynical political ploy to divide Americans in an election year.

Hillary Clinton warns that her political opponents "want to control how [women] act," and "even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies." That's, of course, not what Rick Santorum -- to take one of the most prominent targets of the left's scorn -- wants to do. He might talk about the downsides of contraception in a far-reaching web interview, he might even do it when prompted on center stage, but he's not going to issue mandates to enforce his views. Ironically, it's only this White House that is demonstrating the heavy-handed mandating of mores, colliding with the freedom of conscience of Americans who might choose to live differently.

As the president accuses others of using religion as a bludgeon, he ought to reflect on the division he's created. And those who oppose the mandate ought to be as relentless as those waving a "war on women" banner in defense of it. The White House is counting on us to be demure, as they and their allies scare single women into voting Democrat in the November elections. Don't be. We're in a fight for a foundational principle, a first freedom, and the stakes are too high to give in to the cynical ploy that we're engaging in a "war on women."

This is a not a war on women, and it shouldn't become a war on men, either. This isn't a battle of the sexes, it's a fight for freedom as we've known it -- for the conscience rights we've known before this administration changed them with the stroke of a bureaucratic pen. And if we have a fighting chance to preserve the liberty we've enjoyed here as a beacon for those who suffer under real oppression, we had better get out of the cave that mandate supporters hoped we'd hide in and be clear and confident in what were preserving, together, for women AND men -- no matter what their faith.


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.