Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | February 14, 2012

Birth control coverage and the constitutionality canard

“It is now a fact that as a result of birth control, the survival rate among mothers and children is higher. There is less suffering for all groups.” ~Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger

“In the United States today, the small fraction of women … who are sexually active and at risk of unintended pregnancy but do not practice contraception are responsible for almost half of the unintended pregnancies and nearly half of the abortions.” ~Guttmacher Institute

Let’s start this Valentine’s Day column with some relevant history: The United States Supreme Court ruled that birth control bans were unconstitutional for married couples in 1965 (Griswold v. Connecticut) and for all couples in 1972 (Eisenstadt v. Baird). It ruled that women have a right to terminate pregnancies in 1973 (Roe v. Wade). The Obama Administration recently announced a rule that requires most employers to cover birth control without co-pays, including Catholic hospitals and universities.

prevention from the Flickr photostream of brains the head

Cue the right-wing echo chamber, which featured people screaming about religious freedom and trying to whip the religious right into a constitutional fervor. They conveniently ignored the fact that the Obama Administration’s rule is based on a more than a decade of precedent. Mother Jones reported that in December of 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that “companies that provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn’t provide birth control were in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. That opinion, which the George W. Bush administration did nothing to alter or withdraw when it took office the next month, is still in effect today — and because it relies on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it applies to all employers with 15 or more employees.”

No one accused Bush of conducting a war on religion or trampling the Constitution when he accepted the EEOC ruling. And conservative author and Bush speechwriter David Frum isn’t buying the “constitutionality” canard today: “Republicans are not proposing to allow employers and plans to refuse to cover blood transfusions if they conscientiously object to them (although there are religious groups that do). Or vaccinations (although there are individuals who conscientiously object to those as well). Or medicines derived from animal experimentation. (Ditto.) No, Marco Rubio’s … bill provides for one conscientious exemption only: contraception and sterilization. Which means it will be very hard if not impossible to persuade the target audience that this debate is not in fact about contraception. Everybody quite sure that’s a wise debate to have?”

Excellent question, especially in light of reality, which I’m well aware is a major irritant to most right-wingers: Of women who have had sex, 99 percent have used some form of contraception, according to a study [PDF] by the nonpartisan Guttmacher Institute. That number plummets to 98 percent among Catholic women who have had sex.

We are the 99 percent from Mother Jones

We’ve had legal contraception in this country for 47 years. The vast majority of sexually active women, even the vast majority of Catholic women, use contraceptives. Contraceptives are the best way to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and thus, to reduce the number of abortions.

Yet, despite those facts, here we are in 2012, with all four Republican presidential candidates — Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney — endorsing the “personhood movement,” which defines life as beginning at the moment of conception, thus making hormonal forms of contraception like the pill and the IUD, illegal.

Whenever I hear these positions, I have to fight the impulse to look around for a time machine: Surely I must have accidentally tripped into one.

Meanwhile, as a Democrat, I hope Republicans go to town on this loser of an issue.

When personhood measures have been on the ballot, even in the most conservative of states (Mississippi, 2011) and during otherwise conservative election years (Colorado, 2010), they’ve been soundly defeated. Voters understand the value of contraceptives in preventing unwanted pregnancies, in improving women’s health, and in reducing the number of abortions.

Go ahead, GOP, brand yourself as the anti-contraceptives party. It can only hurt you this November.


On a tangentially related note, on Jan. 5, this newspaper reported on a Saint Louise Regional Hospital survey to gauge public support for a tax to benefit the Catholic facility. That news article included the promise from Saint Louise spokesman Jasmine Nguyen that the poll results would be shared “in about two weeks.” It’s been more than six weeks; where are those results?



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