Conservatives Aggressively Attack Contraception

There is no doubt that the coarseness of political life and the politics of personal destruction are tied to the rise of social conservative ideologues, and their fight against a woman’s right to choose since Roe v. Wade. The advent of a “Culture War” was born out of a movement that opposed legalized abortion and pretended that was its only agenda for many years. But as religious belief turned from mission to power, the greatest of corrupting influences, the swagger of social ideologues and their control of the GOP, the White House, Congress, Courts, Governorships, State Legislatures and School Boards has them ready to take the next step, an all out war on contraception.

This past weekend in Chicago, Joe Schieldler’s Pro-Life Action League hosted 250 people at a conference entitled Contraception Is Not The Answer, opening a new strategic front to advance their ever-more narrow agenda, coming from an ever-expanding cast of ideologically motivated organizations. If conservatives think our culture is coarse now, its probably good to remind them that coarseness is coming less from people actually having sex responsibly than it is from the way uptight ideologues and corporate marketeers and others talk about sex, making it seem clinical and shameful on one extreme, or detached and less sacred on the other. Take the average American’s contraception away and its a safe bet life will be more coarse as people’s tension increases.

One of those 250 people attending the two-day conference was RH Reality Check’s Associate Editor, Tyler LePard.

Tyler is busily preparing a special series of reporting from the weekend’s conference and we will be debuting that coverage tomorrow and throughout this week, offering reality checks to the conference speakers, and a wake up call to America: Elections aren’t just about abortion any more, and never should have been.

But as Joe Schielder said at his conference this weekend, his group believes that “contraception is the root cause of abortion,” something that fully 81% of Americans would disagree with.

Fr. Thomas Euteneurer of Human Life International called for an end to “contraceptive welfare,” that tried and true code word favored amongst so many social ideologues. On that point, 73% of Americans believe access to birth control should not be limited to a person’s ability to pay for it.

The reality is many voters are seeing the conservative social agenda as a matter of convenience used by some to win power, and are waking up to the reality that while abortion is something that is difficult for any family to deal with, thus a political wedge issue playing on people’s emotions, the real agenda of the social conservatives is not anti-abortion, it is anti-sex.

People don’t have to be sexually active to realize how unrealistic that is, and how pursuing that agenda says so much about what conservatives really care about, control and power over people’s lives. Making people who use contraception to responsibly plan families feel like they are doing something wrong doesn’t sound like a winning political strategy, but then again, as Kate Looby points out in her piece today, the South Dakota legislature felt the need to specifically state that residents could use contraception in their law banning abortion.

Many social conservatives are growing restless, caught between the reality that they have been taken advantage of by the Bush Adminsitration’s complete control of government and its failure to deliver on their entire agenda, and their fear of losing control. In 2008, the far-right’s presidential hopefuls, Senators Sam Brownback, Rick Santorum and George Allen are all long shots against the McCain juggernaut, and two of them (Allen and Santorum) may not make it past 2006. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is now sucking it up and getting ready to help save the GOP majority. His efforts come on the heals of public boasting by the GOP that this will be the most personal campaign ever fought as their candidates run uphill against an unpopular war, a less popular President and the reality of a do-nothing Congress.

Contraception is an important part of life in every advanced country on the planet and is one part of the solution to many problems faced by women and girls around the world if the Bush Administration would listen to public health experts and not the attendees of this conference. Stay tuned all this week for special coverage of all the details from this conference and the real story on the war on contraception, straight from the conference that was held to plan it.

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  • johanna

    I can’t help but noticing that the conference speakers used evidence (based in fact and observations) to argue/prove their positions while you are using opinion poles to argue yours. What about truth and what “is” in actuality, and not relying on what a majority of people (who are not specialists and are ignorant to the actual wider effects of contraception) think about the subject. It seems you don’t hold the upper hand intellectually in this situation because you are relying on people who are not active in investigating the matter, but on people who are only invested emotionally and lack academic legitimacy.

  • scott-swenson

    Johanna: Thanks for your thoughts. Actually, this is what's known as an opinion piece, introducing the series that we will be running all this week that will in fact be relying on the evidence-based responses from public health experts and other studies. Many of those you can find on our site already in the Issue Briefs, About the Right, Policy Watch and Fact v. Fiction sections. You might check out Reckless Rhetoric, just for fun ;-) … Our mission here is to lay out the evidence for readers and this is a special series that will be running for many days. Most importantly, when it comes to contraception, I'm wondering how many studies would it take to persuade you that an American family should have the ability to make their own decisions about if, when and how many children to have????  We hope you'll check back often.!

  • johanna

    Thank you for your clarification on the nature of the piece. In response to your question: Obviously, contraception is not geared specifically for “family planning”. If it was primarily, then why is so much money invested by Planned Parenthood to have sex education and contraceptives available to high school and college students? How many more out of wedlock pregnancies (not just births) are there now than there were before contraception was made widely available? Somewhere around fifty percent of positive pregnancy tests are given to single women, so this is not just about invading the privacy of a family to limit/increase their size. No amount of studies are needed to persuade me that an American family should have the ability to make their own decisions about if, when and how many children to have because they are rightly in the position to decide for themselves… the real issue is that it can be argued that the means to limiting or growing a family can be held up for debate. Shouldn’t the American family have the information available to them how to best function and remain together and be healthy? Look at the rate of increase in divorce in the last century. What if there is evidence out there that suggests that these hormones that women ingest could be detrimental to their health and their relationship with their husbands and children? Should women not be made aware that a male contraceptive was investigated but because of one instance of “shrinking of the testicles” the study was abandoned? Even though there were deaths of women in the female contraceptive study a simple lowering of the dosage was satisfactory enough to the scientists to make the contraceptive available to the public (these are published tests). Why should women be made to suffer the risks of blood clotting, heart attack, and stroke for the sake of being more available to men sexually (risks found on lables of contraceptives). Again, this isn’t a matter of merely opinion and desires, but a matter that must be looked at factually… social effects, personal health, emotional health. It seems that “society” has come to the point of implicity saying that everyone has the right to not endure the effect of a cause (not my words, but Dr. Jennifer Morse’s). I’m sure we can all agree that this is no mere feat.

  • scott-swenson

    People weren't advocating prohibition, which is what the conference was about. The title implies that Americans using contraception somehow are wrong. In fact, the more information about male contraception, female condoms, and all other manner of contraception the better. Let people decide what works best for them and their body. The problem seems to start when some group thinks they have THE ANSWER when in fact the human body and emotional being is fairly complex. One size fits all solutions might not be ideal. The reason that organizations provide and encourage sexuality education and information about contraception is because individuals need information to make decisions about what is best for them.

    To your point about single people seeking contraception and sexuality education being taught in schools, good point. I was too limiting when I asked specifically about families, you see Johanna, single people have sex too, and maybe some people don't believe that's right, but again, that doesn't fit everyone. So the bottom line really is, we should work together to educate people and use the collective wisdom found in science and public health to accelerate that learning and the prevention of unintended pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases based on real people's behavior, not one set of society's beliefs about how people "should" behave.

    I think we're onto something here Johanna, we could set goals such as 1) agree that prohibitions don't work 2) educating people honestly about sexuality and the joys, pleasures and responsibilities involved 3) agree not to stigmatize anyone 4) allow people to decide for themselves 5) agree that every person regardless of income should have access to the same information and tools because reproductive health knows no boundaries 6) and do this in the real world where, yes, some teenagers actually do have sex and thus agree that informed is better than not.

    The prohibitions and stigmas promoted by those who have THE ANSWER have caused great harm to people. If those beliefs work for you and your family and friends, great. I don't see anyone telling you that you can't practice what you believe. All I see is people having to fight for their rights to practice what they believe because some people think they have THE ANSWER.

    What do you say Johanna, put an end to prohibitions and stigmatizing people, educate and inform about all aspects of reproductive health? Is that agenda so difficult to buy into?

    Solving the abortion war might get you a Nobel Prize Johanna, I think you're close….

  • johanna

    The conference was a good way to open the dialogue on contraception. It is a much needed dialogue. The fact is that contraception doesn’t just effect the two people involved in the sexual act. Contraception, in so far as that it may act as an abortifacient, affects the human being brought into existence by that act. This does matter in terms of a “prohibition” of contraception. If the human being and its life is found worth preserving in every stage of life and not just outside of the uterus, it is pertinent to expose how contraception acts as an abortifacient sometimes. I would like to hear addressed more about how contraception effects society and not so much more about our personal rights to it. Why should we have this right? Why is sex for pleasure (since that’s what it is when it isn’t for procreating) a right above that which we have to health and civic responsibility? What about responsibility to ourselves and others? Again, it seems the debate is going back to opinion and right to fulfill our desires. As far as history can show us, the more we make contraception more available, the more problems arise. The farther we try to separate the act of sex which by its very nature is procreative from its procreative effect the farther we are from solving the original problems of unplanned pregnancies. By teaching that sex makes babies and the best way to not have babies is to not have sex… then teaching behavior that is condusive to this lifestyle (just like contraception advocates teach behavior and actions that correspond to using contraception) one might find that they are teaching a 100% full-proof method of avoiding pregancy :-O whoa! Your argument is based in the claim that people will have sex anyway. Funny that this wasn’t always so. Contraception has made the lifestyle possible in which one would find themselves in the situation to seek an abortion. Contraception cannot continue to be pushed as allowing all sex to be “safe sex” because it doesn’t. It does not always prevent pregnancy or STD’s. When a woman is on “the pill” she is made available to men in a way that she may be objectified. The man has no fear of being held accountable and responsible to her. She risks her health (as mentioned in a previous comment) to be in this position which, as a woman I can say, is contrary to her nature. Women are naturally fertile. It is a healthy condition to be fertile. Making a woman infertile is unnatural and has negative effects. It is natural for a woman to bond (chemically, emotionally) to her mate. Why are we fighting nature so hard for the sake of sex? Why not pose that question to these people who are “going to have sex anyway”? Are we really protecting them and their rights when we let them harm themselves? Is it right to treat healthy women as if they’re sick? Doesn’t it take away from the dignity of the woman to say that her fertility is not desirable when it is a part of her being? So now it is shameful and undesirable to be a woman. When a woman has sex and is not contracepting and therefore gets pregnant, often she is guilted into an abortion. To me, this doesn’t seem compassionate… doesn’t seem logical. Once again, I really think the debate should be about contraception’s effects and not the preservation of a lifetyle that is not based on logic/facts, but in a belief system that is ill-informed.

  • scott-swenson

    I think the Nobel committee may be reconsidering your application, and we had such hopes that you were onto something ;-) … First, birth control prevents implantation which the many resources listed in this Fact V. Fiction page detail. Secondly, sexuality education does not cause irresponsible behaviors any more than Home Economics class causes people to eat at McDonalds … some kids might not learn to cook properly and end up with fast food, but many other kids learn their lessons well and are healthy. Its not the education, its the behavior, and the more comprehensive information people have, the more chances they have to view themselves succesfully using that information to delay sexually activity and as Tyler points out in her first piece on this series today, use the information to be responsible for themselves and with their partners once they do decide to have sex. Next, comprehensive sexuality education does not promote promiscuity and disease either, umbrellas don't cause rain Johanna.

    But to what I consider your most important point, this is not about fulfilling desires, its about recognizing reality and responsibility and encouraging the latter while living in the former. Its about women, and let's face it Johanna, we've got to talk about women and girls every where in the world now, being able to share in decisions about sex and family in ways many women and girls simply cannot now because they do not have any means of control over contraception in much of the world. In more developed countries women are not making "selfish choices" by using contraception any more than a man would be by forcing a woman to stay home and raise a family when perhaps that's not where her energy is best spent. Why don't we look at the man in those relationships as selfish? We don't because that is what is "expected" from those "good old days" you refer to. Johanna, this is not about wanton behavior this is about being informed, responsible and making good decisions. If people are not using their education, being healthy and responsible with their bodies and making the best decisions for their lives and their families, it is not the tools of education and contraception that cause those behaviors and, most would likely agree that we should figure out how best to help those people learn to be more responsible by understanding them as individuals, not through prohibition on education and contraception for everyone. Finally, as stated before, if a body rejects certain methods of contraception then it should be between the person and their doctor to decide what is best for them … how can they do that if the doctor might lose his license for discussing contracpetion because its been outlawed?

    Instead Johanna, the "prohibitionists" want to lock us all into this blame game where it appears that its the tools and if we could just erase those, or the progress women have made — if only that could be erased, or some other thing outside of us that we could focus the blame on and erase that, all would be well. But the blame game doesn't work and please don't interpret anything I'm saying as blaming prohibitioninsts, I don't. We all say, if that is how you choose to live and it works for you great. But please allow space in this pluralistic democracy for others to decide what works for them, witout blame and without stigma, and allow government to be a neutral venue that does not impose your will expressed through disproprtionate influence in government (right now, check back with me in November ;-) ) on others, but also recognizes that some citizens will need access to different information than you will, so please … work with us to make that information responsible, comprehensive and focus our collective energy on helping people to behave responsibly too as opposed to finding more blame, more stigma and causing harm to others through those irresponsible behaviors.

    I'm curious Johanna, what are your views on Viagra?

  • scott-swenson

    You can come back without telling me how you feel about Viagra, I promise I won't ask again.

  • yellow

    The far-right never has had any right to oppose contraception. This only proves what feminists and others who support free choice have always said about them. Far from concern for life they are a group of fanatics who are anti-sex and who want to impose their rigid beliefs on unwilling people. They lie repeatedly in order to scare uneducated people into supporting their repressive agenda. Contraception has always been something we can all agree on. It prevents unwanted pregnancies and it prevents STDs. It is perfectly healthy and saves lives! What right do these fanatics have to tell people that sex is not for pleasure? How absurd! People have the right to decide these issues for themselves. Most Americans don’t want a clerico-fascist theocracy. These hypocritical morons only want a return to the middle ages. We have to defeat them and take America back. The need to do so grows greater all the time!

  • yellow

    Clerico-fascists all over the world including the US define women only in terms of their motherhood role. Biology becomes destiny. Most women prefer to have free choices and empowerment which they find more dignifying than a patriarchal, highly natalized definition of womenhood which is constrictive and oppressive. Most women freely choose abortion. Just because you disapprove of alternative lifestyles doesn’t give you the right to outlaw them. If women are oppressed by contraception than why do they choose it. Women who don’t want to have sex don’t have to deny contraception to others in order to make their own decisions. Your rant about contraception being a way of “treating healthy women as if they were sick” and being an afront to a women’s fertility which is “part of her being” makes no sense much like most clerico-fascist drivel. Women are people first, not baby factories! They have a right to reproductive choices. You are afraid of freedom!

    I would also like to make a comment about abortion at this time. Abortion is not new and did not become a lifestyle with Roe vs. Wade or the availability of contraceptives. Abortion was widely practiced all through human history by midwives who generally did it safely. Even the Vatican didn’t oppose it until 1869. It was in the 1860s when most western countries like the US and the UK made it illegal. This led to unnecessary suffering. Most feminists rightly believe the legal changes to be a patriarchal backlash against the incipient women’s movements at this particular time in history. There is no such thing as a post Roe vs. Wade “abortion culture.” This is a figment of the right-wing imagination! Millions of abortions were performed by doctors and others for the 100 or so years between the time it became unlawful until the landmark 1973 US Supreme Court decision. This was a decision that saved the lives and the health of many women. If clerico-fascists cared about women so much they would struggle for conditions that make abortion unlikely such as better education for the poor, encouraging women’s empowerment through greater equality and control over their lives, and a universal health care system which guaranteed access to health counciling, advocacy, and treatment to help women make independant decisions. Statistics show that abortion is more prevalent in poorer Red states than in affluent Blue ones because it is social conditions and gender equality not morality that is at the heart of the problem.

    One final word on religion. The Bible is quite unequivocal on the issue of abortion. Exodus 22: 23-29 clearly establishes a legal distinction between the life of a women and that of an unborn child. It states that one who harms a women in a way that results in the killing of her unborn fetus is treated in a more lenient way than one who kills the women herself. The latter offense is a capital crime while the former a mere high misdemeanor carrying a far lighter penalty.

  • scott-swenson

    Thanks for chiming in, preach! I’ve never understood who is threatened by a woman making a choice that is best for her life. You said a mouthful when you said “you are afraid of freedom” referring to people who would oppress women. It seems like many people are afraid — or unclear — about what freedom is these days believing only they can define it, which makes it all the more important that people stand and be counted now, before those things we call freedoms are gone. Thanks for commenting!

  • mernlar

    I never knew about that particular section of Exodus. What an interesting and insightful comment.