Tuesday, March 20, 2012

8 Things Everyone Should Know About the Ongoing Birth Control Debate

Photo by M. Markus
Women's health advocates are all too familiar with the idea of living "uncovered." When private insurers willingly pick up the tab for Viagra and not contraception, women are forced to pay for their reproductive rights-- out of pocket. And regulating a monthly cycle can be costly.

While abortion remains a heated partisan issue, birth control seemed all but forgotten-- practically apolitical. Financial barriers aside, birth control hadn't seen government restrictions since 1972.

Then suddenly, the notion of dreaded Obamacare providing women with contraception for a nominal fee cracked open a moral controversy many assumed was over and done with decades ago.

Not only has the sexual revolution erupted once again, but the medical instigator is a very hot topic in this year's primaries. For the first time in a very long time, the government, the Church, and the media are all equally obsessed with the pill.

But in the midst of all this coverage about contraception coverage, what's really worth knowing?

1) Following FDA approval 45 years ago, the Catholic Church almost accepted birth control. 

While today's Catholic Bishops are completely uncompromising, the religious authorities of the past were more considerate with contraception.

After Envoid was approved in 1960, Pope Paul VI organized a commission on birth control. "In 1967, the commission’s report was leaked to the press, revealing that a significant majority of its members favored lifting the ban, including 60 of 64 theologians and nine of the 15 cardinals." 

But in 1968, Paul inexplicably sided with the minority, forbidding the use of birth control just as it was becoming widely available. His final opinion was the basis of the Church's "Humanae Vitae"-- a crutch religious conservatives still lean upon today when attacking women's reproductive rights.     

2) Republicans used to think paying for birth control was a good idea. 

When Nixon was president, the Republican party overwhelmingly supported contraception, especially for the poor. A much younger George H.W. Bush argued "the federal government should pay for birth control for low-income women" when he sponsored Title X in 1970. As described by the Department of Health and Human Services: 
The Title X family planning program is intended to assist individuals in determining the number and spacing of their children. This promotes positive birth outcomes and healthy families. The education, counseling, and medical services available in Title X-funded clinic settings assist in achieving these goals.
In recent years, conservatives have attacked Title X and family planning facilities like Planned Parenthood, attempting to revoke the sensible program past members of their party initiated. And those currently competing for the republican candidacy would take the anti-choice movement a step further, restricting access to birth control through insurance and employment loopholes

As the right focuses on social issues and attempts to police fertility, they've successfully distracted the nation from debt, unemployment and all the financial problems for which they have no solutions. In the midst of an election showdown, this proves what everyone knew all along-- none of these candidates are qualified. And unfortunately, women are suffering during this obvious attempt to hide their inadequacies.

3) Today, the right rationalizes denying women contraception as protecting religious freedom.

Following President Obama's birth control mandate, many Republicans snarled this debate has nothing to do with reproductive rights. According to internet watchdogs at Salon, conservatives perceive the stand-off as an opportunity "to prove to Americans that Barack Obama truly does want to weasel his way into every aspect of American life."  

Catholics are claiming Obama has declared war against their conscience. Supportive Republicans are claiming the Obama administration is initiating its master plan for total control. Either way, women are in danger of losing access to contraception, yet another reproductive right, making women's health the real issue. And 6 out of 10 Americans believe that is what this is really about.

But the church and half the state keep insisting this is just about them and their morals.

4) When the debate is framed this way, women's voices are not heard.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing that shook the nation was titled  "Lines crossed: Separation of church and state. Has the Obama administration trampled on freedom of religion and freedom of conscience?" On February 16, an all male panel comprised of "religious experts" sat down to make a final call on women's birth control usage.

"Religious people determine what violates their consciences -- not the federal government," said Reverend Dr. Matthew Harrison. "Please get the federal government, Mr. Chairman, out of our consciences."

But what if religious people's consciences violate other people's consciences? Or worse? 

What if their holy notions interfere with a standard of living legally protected by two Supreme Court decisions? Who would be qualified to offer a counter-point then? Certainly not women. 

Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown Law School student, was prepared to to tell the story of her friend who lost an ovary due to lack of contraceptive coverage. But committee chair Darrell Issa rejected her testimony. 

Why? According to Issa, Fluke was not "appropriate and qualified" to speak on the matter. 

Yet Fluke was ready to discuss other medical benefits of the pill-- and the dire consequences of living without it. Proven to control endometriosis, irregular periods, unbearable cramps, and even acne, many women are taking birth control without trying to prevent pregnancy. 

Perhaps this information is worth considering before religious institutions demand their right to deny American women their prescriptions? Issa certainly didn't think so. And neither do the men who think contraception usage is nothing more than the ultimate indicator of a promiscuous girl.

5) Conservatives thinks women who use birth control are sluts.

Following Fluke's testimony, Rush Limbaugh told the world that if he had to pay for birth control, he wanted to get something out of it. What did he suggest? Women posting tapes of their sexual encounters online for him and fellow tax-payers to enjoy.

In addition to making illogical and offensive demands, Limbaugh insulted and personally attacked the brave witness willing to speak on behalf of all women. He said:
What does it say about the college coed Susan [SIC] Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex?," he said on his radio show. "What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.
Limbaugh has since issued a half-hearted apology. He also lost a considerable number of sponsors. But that doesn't change the fact several people still agree with him-- including all of the republican party's presidential wannabes.

6) The Republican candidates don't support choice. 

According to Mitt Romney, only loose women are on the pill. Or maybe hussies. Or floozies. When questioned about Limbaugh's unfair assessment, Romney merely said "that isn't the language I would have used." But he didn't challenge or condemn Limbaugh's outlandish behavior. 

And when it comes to the debate itself, Romney is consistently inconsistent-- as usual. 

At the beginning of February, he called Obama's plan for contraception coverage "a violation of conscience," aligning with his memorable 2007 promise to be  "pro-life president.

Then, at the end of February, Romney told an Ohio reporter he didn't like "the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman." But about an hour later, Romney back-peddled into that very relationship

Caught having more positions than the Kama Sutra, "campaign Romney" remains frighteningly conservative-- and a sworn enemy of reproductive rights, vowing to "get rid"of Planned Parenthood. 

But even more worrisome than the man who will do anything for a vote are the rigid views of the republican playboy (married three times) who asked his former wife for an open marriageNewt Gingrich called Obama's birth control mandate an "outrageous assault" on religion, scoring big points for his podium-worthy overreaction. 

Consistently anti-choice, this candidate supports a fetal personhood amendment and thinks "post-conception" birth control should be illegal. As Gingrich stumbles along the campaign trail, he focuses heavily on contraception to criticize Obama and rally support from his radical fan base whom he has (literally) promised the moon

And in the midst of all this political exploitation, gross hypocrisy, and delusion of grandeur, Rick Santorum took a firm religious stance against science he obviously does not understand. In a 2006 interview, Santorum explained he (begrudgingly) supported Title X, though he was personally opposed to birth control-- because it doesn't work.

Also, he said it's harmful to women and harmful to society-- an opinion informed by the Humanae Vitae, or similar religious documents, no doubt.

But when you ask the medical experts and those experienced with women's health, it works just fine. Planned Parenthood, the infamous family planning clinic whose own Title X funding has been threatened by misguided conservatives like Santorum, explains "less than 1 out of 100 women will get pregnant each year if they always take the pill each day as directed." 

Taken regularly (at the same time every day) oral contraceptives more than 99 percent effective-- but only if you're willing to accept the data collected by medical doctors and the personal experiences of women as reliable evidence proving a well-known truth. And everyone knows Santorum relies on feelings rather than facts.

7) The people who (financially) support these candidates don't support choice.

The Republicans that pray together stay together-- and spread misinformation together. According to Santorum's friends with money, Aspirin is an effective form of birth control. 

But contrary to the ancient wisdom of Super PAC investor Foster Friess, the only thing aspirin will block is a headache. Another incriminating soundbite from camp Santorum, this one happened on MSNBC:

“You know, back in my days, they'd use Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly," he said. 

The comment was made the same day the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was hosting its panel made up entirely of men. Yes, the birth control debate escalated quickly, peaking in February with a particularly rough 24 hours for women in America.

But to be clear, while this medication may relieve pain caused by old rich white men's privileged commentary on women's reproductive health, it definitely will NOT prevent pregnancy.

8)Many politicians are controlled by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Long before the birth control mandate was announced, Roman Catholic bishops across the nation were preparing to fight. A contraceptive discrepancy was just the excuse they needed to declare war on those threatening their religious freedoms-- or political power.

According to the New York Times, "The speed and passion behind the bishops’ response reflects their growing sense of siege, and their belief that the space the Catholic church once occupied in American society and the deference it was given are gradually being curtailed by an increasingly secular culture."

The driving force behind the anti-contraception movement, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has obstinately rejected Obama at every turn. While the Catholic Health Association was pleased with the compromise the President offered on February 10, the bishops were not.

And they intend to use the other two branches of the government to get exactly what they want.

The Bishops pushed for the "Respect for Rights of Conscience Act," relieving all insurance providers and purchasers from covering any product or service they are religiously or morally against. Sponsored by Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), the Blunt amendment was killed in the Senate by just 3 votes.

Yet Bishop William E. Lori, chairman of the Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, swore they "will continue their strong defense of conscience rights for all people."

Hoping to protect "the heart of democracy," Lori explained the Bishops would turn their attention to the House of Representatives and explore their options using both the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. 

And while the right is supposedly infuriated by government interference in religion, they seemingly have no problem with the very vocal leaders of the Catholic Church influencing American politics.


Catholic Bishops aren't the only ones getting organized. This, and other controversies have reignited the passion behind modern-day feminism. Young women born in a (supposedly) post-feminist world are beginning to understand; from abortion to birth control, nothing is ever guaranteed.

The recent onslaught of legislation attacking women's reproductive freedom serves as a serious wake up call.
Besides the Blunt Amendment and plans to retire Title X, lawmakers have been cooking up all kinds of ways to get the government inside the womb. Not only is the personal still political, but politics have become exceedingly personal.
  • The Ohio Heartbeat Bill wanted to deny women an abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected-- as early as 6-ish weeks. This occurs well before the average woman has had enough time to realize she's missed a period and might be pregnant.
  • The failed Mississippi Personhood Amendment, granting "citizens" rights from the moment of conception, would have made it impossible to get an abortion and many kinds of birth control. 
  • Virginia's Transvaginal Ultrasound Bill would have required women to be raped by the state before obtaining an abortion. This uncomfortable and degrading stipulation serves no medical purpose and demonstrates how far anti-abortion advocates in the House and the Senate are willing to go to impose their beliefs on women's bodies. 
  • House Bill 2625 in Arizona would require women who obtain birth control with insurance offered by their job to provide employers with proof they are taking the prescription for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. If they should fail to produce medical evidence, they could be fired for offending their boss's moral position. 
From state to state, the list goes on and on. And astonishingly enough, women have managed to maintain a sense of humor throughout this infuriating regression. From blasting Senators' Facebook pages to proposing their own legislation, feminists have found new and unique ways to protest the undeniable war on women.

While some have questioned the dramatic comparison, this is indeed a prolonged conflict characterized by extreme aggression, social disruption, and, if the right continues to treat women as means to an end, even high mortality.

As for the birth control debate, this is just one strategy in the "pro-life" playbook. Because for some, overpriced pregnancy prevention might as well be illegal. What good is access to something you can't afford?

And while Republicans want to keep the state out of the Catholic Church, democrats are desperate for the Church to remove itself from state business. It really goes both ways. 

But, as everyone can plainly see, this isn't about religion at all. It's just about women and 40 years of guaranteed access to safe, effective birth control.

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