Since when was my choice to use birth control under attack? Ahh yes -- with Bush's religious regime.
So I was going to bed, when I saw my NYT email... and I just had to read this story. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep till I did. And Russell Shorto does an INCREDIBLE job with this topic: "Contra-Contraception." The republican right is no longer content to attack a woman's right to choose abortions; they are now threatening our very right to choose to use birth control. This shouldn't even be an issue -- it seems pretty d#$@ clear to most of us that women have the right to choose to halt or impair their fertility. Not all women want to have a baby every year, right? But the conservative/religious right is trying to take the country back to pre-Griswold vs. CT days.
I'm going to quote massive portions of this article that y'all should read:
Many Christians who are active in the evolving anti-birth-control arena state frankly that what links their efforts is a religious commitment to altering the moral landscape of the country. In particular, and not to put too fine a point on it, they want to change the way Americans have sex.
Whoa there. 1st problem. If you want to change how YOU have sex, that's great, but leave me out of it.
It may be news to many people that contraception as a matter of right and public health is no longer a given, but politicians and those in the public health profession know it well. "The linking of abortion and contraception is indicative of a larger agenda, which is putting sex back into the box, as something that happens only within marriage," says William Smith, vice president for public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. Siecus has been around since 1964, and as a group that supports abortion rights, it is natural enemies with many organizations on the right, but its mission has changed in recent years, from doing things like promoting condoms as a way to combat AIDS to, now, fighting to maintain the very idea of birth control as a social good. "Whether it's emergency contraception, sex education or abortion, anything that might be seen as facilitating sex outside a marital context is what they'd like to see obliterated," Smith says.
Sex outside of a marital-reproductive context, you mean. Since when is it the government's role to decide how its citizens have sex? I thought republicans/conservatives were into that whole limited government thing. And this is sounding eerily like both 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale.
The Guttmacher Institute, which like Siecus has been an advocate for birth control and sex education for decades, has also felt the shift. "Ten years ago the fight was all about abortion," says Cynthia Dailard, a senior public-policy associate at Guttmacher. "Increasingly, they have moved to attack and denigrate contraception. For those of us who work in the public health field, and respect longstanding public health principles — that condoms reduce S.T.D.'s, that contraception is the most effective way to help people avoid unintended pregnancy — it's extremely disheartening to think we may be set back decades."
It's also disheartening for those of us with uteruses, whether or not we work in the public health field.
The hope many people had for the drug [Plan B] was tied to an ugly number: 21. That is the number of abortions in the U.S. per year per 1,000 women of reproductive age, which puts the country at or near the top among developed nations. Put another way, according to a study released this past week by the Guttmacher Institute, there are 6.4 million pregnancies a year in the U.S., 3.1 million of which are unintended and 1.3 million of which end in abortion. In the seven years since the last such study, the overall unintended-pregnancy rate has remained unchanged; for women below the poverty level it increased 29 percent. If women had quick, easy access to a backup contraceptive, the thinking of Plan B proponents went, those rates — and thus the abortion rate — would drop. "I saw it as a win-win situation, something that everyone on both sides of the abortion issue could support," says Dr. Susan F. Wood, who was at the time director of the Office of Women's Health at the F.D.A. "I still don't get what happened."
Neither do I.
One thing that happened, which Dr. Wood and many others may have failed to notice, was the change in conservative circles on the subject of contraception. At a White House press briefing in May of last year, three months before the F.D.A.'s nonruling on Plan B, Press Secretary Scott McClellan was asked four times by a WorldNetDaily correspondent, Les Kinsolving, if the president supported contraception. "I think the president's views are very clear when it comes to building a culture of life," McClellan replied. Kinsolving said, "If they were clear, I wouldn't have asked." McClellan replied: "And if you want to ask those questions, that's fine. I'm just not going to dignify them with a response." This exchange caught the attention of bloggers and others. In July, a group of Democrats in Congress, led by Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, sent the first of four letters to the president asking outright: "Mr. President, do you support the right to use contraception?" According to Representative Maloney's office, the White House has still not responded.
The president can't be clear about a couple's right to choose to control their fertility? WTF???
Dr. Hager said he feared that if Plan B were freely available, it would increase sexual promiscuity among teenagers. F.D.A. staff members presented research showing that these fears were ungrounded: large-scale studies showed no increase in sexual activity when Plan B was available to them, and both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Society for Adolescent Medicine endorsed the switch to over-the-counter status. Others argued that the concern was outside the agency's purview: that the F.D.A.'s mandate was specifically limited to safety and did not extend to matters like whether a product might lead to people having more sex. Meanwhile a government report later found that Dr. Janet Woodcock, deputy commissioner for operations at the F.D.A., had also expressed a fear that making the drug available over the counter could lead to "extreme promiscuous behaviors such as the medication taking on an 'urban legend' status that would lead adolescents to form sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B." In May 2004, the F.D.A. rejected the finding of its scientific committees and denied the application, citing some of the reasons that Dr. Hager had expressed.
So... rather than listening to science, we listened to Dr.-my-wife-alleges-I-raped-and-sodomized-her-Hager and this nutjob Woodcock? (I'm still getting ironic laughter over that name, especially in this context). Does Woodcock make a habit of inventing cults? Because I think that little Plan-B-sex-cult idea says a whole hell of a lot more about HER state of mind than teenagers'.
The drug's manufacturer reapplied two months later, this time for permission to sell it over the counter to women ages 16 and up, seemingly dealing with the issue of youth. Then, last August, Crawford made his announcement that the F.D.A. would delay its decision, a delay that could be indefinite. The announcement made headlines across the country. Dr. Wood, the F.D.A.'s women's health official, resigned in protest. Democrats in Congress asked for an investigation into what they felt was politics — the anti-birth-control agenda of the politically powerful Christian right — trumping science. The Government Accountability Office conducted a study of the events and issued a report last November concluding that the decision to reject the findings of the scientific advisory panel "was not typical of the other 67 prescription-to-O.T.C. switch decisions made from 1994 to 2004." Currently, Senators Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray are holding up the nomination of Andrew von Eschenbach as F.D.A. commissioner until the F.D.A. issues a verdict on the drug.
Yet again: religious conservatives claiming they know better than science. Say what you will about Dems, at least they have their heads screwed on straight when it comes to supporting birth control. And they're doing more than Bush to lower our abortion rate.
What's more, Dr. Trussell added: "There is evidence that there is a contraceptive effect of breast feeding after fertilization. While a woman is breast feeding, the first ovulation is characterized by a short luteal phase, or second half of the cycle. It's thought that because of that, implantation does not occur." In other words, if the emergency contraception pill causes abortions by blocking implantation, then by the same definition breast feeding may as well. Besides that, the intrauterine device, or IUD, can alter the lining of the uterus and, in theory, prevent implantation.
Next conservative target: breastfeeding. I can see it now: "Come on, women, don't try to limit your fertility, feed your baby formula instead of breastfeeding! So what if it's not as healthy! It's all about having as many children as possible before you die in childbirth!!!" I can see that going over REAL well.
Zenarolla told me she converted to Catholicism two years ago: "I tell people I became Catholic because of the church's teaching on contraception. We are opposed to sex before marriage and contraception within marriage. We believe that the sexual act is meant to be a complete giving of self. Of course its purpose is procreation, but the church also affirms the unitive aspect: it brings a couple together. By using contraception, they are not allowing the fullness of their expression of love. To frustrate the procreative potential ends up harming the relationship."
Um, that's fine. But why the hell do you feel the need to push that mentality off on everyone else? I assert my right to have loving, fulfilling sexual relationships without having some mental block over the use of contraception. I guess some of us CAN conceive (get it?) of having loving "unitive" sex that allows for the "fullness of [our] expression of love" without worrying about constant pregnancies. And why the need to speak so condescendingly of others' sexual lives? How the hell does anyone else know what "harms" another's relationship? I think worrying about how to support 20 children is more harmful to a relationship than my taking a pill each day.
"I think the left missed something in the last couple of decades," says Sarah Brown, president of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which positions itself as a moderate voice in the heated world of reproductive politics. "With the advent of oral contraception, I think there was this great sense that we had a solution to the problem of unintended pregnancy. But that is a medical model. I think the thing that was missed was that sex and pregnancy and relationships aren't just a health issue. They are really about family and gender and religion and values. And what the right did was move in and say we're not just talking about body parts."
Yes, but Repubs error on the other side, refusing to see the science behind sex. They insist on redefining pregnancy as fertilization rather than implantation, for example, which makes little sense when you consider the fact that 50% of fertilized eggs fail to implant on the uterine wall. And I beg to differ even on the left's view of family and values. The left realizes that a woman's quality of life is bound up in her ability to control her fertility. This is something that the right seems to completely miss the boat on. Conservatives are clearly using birth control: are you really going to tell me that Bushie & Laura haven't had sex except for their two children? Come on. We all know they use it, so why are they trying to tell the population to do otherwise?
The abortion pill, which has been on the market since 2000, is under attack, with a group of Republicans in Congress calling for its suspension, in the wake of the deaths of five women who took it.
Um, FAR more men have died of Viagra than the abortion pill. And even these abortion pill deaths are often linked with Toxic Shock Syndrome, as the suppositories introduced bacteria. So... why isn't the right attacking the sale of Viagra, or the use of tampons? Because it's all about getting control over women's choices.
Democrats, meanwhile, have had their difficulty with the abortion issue, and their new hopes are pinned to a strategy that focuses on contraception as a way to reduce unintended pregnancy. Last month, Senators Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton — an anti-abortion Democrat and an abortion rights Democrat — introduced legislation that would require insurance companies to cover contraceptives. In part, the idea is to force Republicans to support contraception or be branded as reactionaries. The conservative counter was that giving even more government backing to emergency contraception and other escape hatches from unwanted pregnancy will lead to a new wave of sexual promiscuity. An editorial in the conservative magazine Human Events characterized the effect of such legislation as "enabling more low-income women to have consequence-free sex."
And now it all becomes clear. Why is Bush's administration & the right warning of the evils of contraception while clearly using it themselves? Because it's all about what Shakespeare's Sister calls the "sex for me, but not for thee" mentality. It's OK for THEM to control their fertility, but those lower-class women, it's not OK for THEM to do so. And we should do everything possible to limit lower-class women's access to family planning. Sorry to be a cynic, but is anyone else wondering if this is all part of a scheme for a cheap labor & army source? Or, possibly, to keep the poor dirt poor? Why else would we have a problem with helping lower-class women afford birth control? Why do we feel the need to saddle poor women with pregnancies they can't afford? Why is it OK for middle and upper class women to have access to these contraception devices, but not for the poor? Insurance SHOULD cover birth control, especially as it frequently covers Viagra.
Under President Bush, spending increased significantly: the 2007 budget calls for $204 million to support abstinence programs (up from $80 million in 2001).
The idea of promoting abstinence over comprehensive sex education (which includes information on various forms of contraception and how to use them) gets to the core of the expanded conservative approach to birth control issues. It really is all about sex. "There are two philosophies of sexuality," Rector told me. "One regards it as primarily physical and all about physical pleasure. Therefore, the idea is to have lots of physical pleasure without acquiring disease or getting pregnant. The other is primarily moral and psychological in nature, and stresses that this is the part of sex that's rewarding and important."
So what's the "this" that makes sex rewarding and important? Having lots of babies? Explain to me why lots of babies is better than lots of safe sex? With 6 billion and counting, I'm gonna have to go for the latter. And what is with the right constantly attacking the left for having a broader idea of what counts as loving and uniting sexuality? The left is often just trying to get the science out there, especially in an era when that seems to be the right's lowest priority. Trying to lower the abortion rate through better sex ed and access to birth control, for example, isn't saying that sex is all about pleasure -- it's just not legislating morality in the same way as the right. Maybe because we see sexual morality as being more appropriately taught in the private sphere, by parents or churches, rather than the government.
Abstinence education, meanwhile, gets withering criticism from the other side. "There is still not a single, sound peer-reviewed study that shows abstinence programs work," says William Smith of Siecus. Peter Bearman, director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University, who has analyzed virginity pledge programs including Rector's, says: "The money being poured into these programs is out of control. And the thing is this is not about public health. It's a moral revolution. The goal is not stopping unwanted pregnancy but stopping sexual expression."
Anyone else have red lights flashing? Stopping sexual expression? Are we in the Victorian era or what?
A December 2004 report on federally financed abstinence-only programs conducted by the office of Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, charged that the major programs presented misleading information about health (one curriculum quoted in the report stated that "condoms fail to prevent H.I.V. approximately 31 percent of the time"), state beliefs as facts (the report cited a curriculum that refers to a 43-day-old fetus as a "thinking person") and give outmoded stereotypes of the sexes.
Maybe because the religious right is trying to take us back to a time when those outmoded stereotypes were a way of life?
All parents struggle with how to shield their children from the excesses of popular culture, and not surprisingly, surveys show that most want teenagers to delay first intercourse. But by wide margins they also say kids should be taught about contraceptives. A poll released in 2004 by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government found, for example, that 95 percent of parents think that schools should encourage teenagers to wait until they are older to have sex, and also that 94 percent think that kids should learn about birth control in school.
Um, 94% is kinda a lot of people. That's... what, 3 times the number of people who approve of Bush currently, right? So why aren't we doing what 94% of people want? Why aren't we teaching our children the facts of life, that they're going to need to know sooner or later, even if they DO abstain till marriage?
The dark side of this, according to some commentators, is the declining birth rate in Europe. It takes an average of 2.1 children per woman to keep a population constant. Italy and Spain are tied for the lowest fertility rate in Western Europe, at 1.28. Even Ireland, the country with the highest birth rate, at 1.86, is suffering a population drain. (The U.S. rate is 2.09.) From 1994 to 2004, the average age at which European women became mothers rose by about 16 months, to 28.2. This, according to social conservatives, is the black hole into which the contraceptive mentality is drawn. As the Canadian priest Raymond J. de Souza wrote in National Review in 2004, "If children are a sign of hope in the future, Europe — and to a lesser extent Canada, Australia and the United States — is losing its will to live."
It sounds to me like our policies are therefore trying to force women to have more children than they want. If European women are choosing to have fewer children, might that be because they have the tools to control their fertility? So the right is afraid that, given those tools, women in the U.S. will also choose to have fewer children. Solution? Don't give women those tools. Right. Maybe more women in the world are awakening to the fact that the human species is doing just fine, and they don't need to have more than one or two children. Why is that so bad? Because it makes it harder to find a cheap labor source? Sorry, but that's NOT a good reason to limit family planning.
This would seem to be a bind, because the benefits of family planning are profound: couples can organize their lives, financially and otherwise, when they are able to choose when to have children and how many to have. And, around the world, countries in which abortion is legal and contraception is widely available tend to rank among the lowest in rate of abortion, while those that outlaw abortion — notably in Central and South America and Africa — have rates that are among the highest. According to Stanley K. Henshaw of the Guttmacher Institute, recent drops in abortion rates in Eastern Europe are due to improved access to contraceptives. The U.S. falls somewhere in the middle in rate of abortion: at 21 per 1,000 women of reproductive age, it is roughly on par with Nigeria (25), much better than Peru (56) but far worse than the Netherlands (9).
You know you're doing something right when your abortion rate is equal to Nigeria and Peru. Oops, maybe not. So... if we want to lower our abortion rate, we should concentrate on making them "safe, legal, and rare," and making sure women know how to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Funny how that works.
So here's my wrap-up rant:
In a nutshell: birth control has done amazing things for women. Rather than being forced to constantly worry about our fertility, we now have the choice to actually get our lives together before we have children. And we can even regulate our fertility within marriage. This is an extremely obvious social good: women can have careers AND healthy sexual lives (within or without marriage -- last I checked, the bedroom is NOT the government's domain). And let's face it: children are a blessing when they can be supported and cared for (financially and emotionally). When you're essentially forced to have more children than you want, your quality of life is probably not so great. And in a society that requires immense investment in its children for said children to succeed, it's frankly a wise evolutionary choice for women to invest more resources into fewer children. Unless you're a millionaire (and not many Americans are), it's pretty hard to give 5 to 15 children the educational and emotional support they need... try paying Harvard tuition for 15 kids. Further, in a time when our planet is already crippled under a burgeoning human population, I think it's irresponsible, and morally questionable, to have significantly more children than the replacement rate. We DO need to think about how our choices will affect the next 7 generations. I would want to do everything possible to leave my children a healthy world in which to live -- being pro-life means thinking about how human life will support itself in the future.