The War on Contraception Goes Viral


As those of us who’ve been following the anti-choice movement for years can attest, the biggest stumbling block for them has been finding a way to make a move towards restricting access to contraception while still trying to keep something like a decent reputation with the public. Attacking sexual liberation and women’s rights has always been at the heart of the anti-choice movement, but in order to sell such a radical agenda as mainstream, they’ve had to make sentimental and often bad faith claims about simply wanting to protect fetal life. While making frowny faces in the direction of pregnant women who want to terminate has been an effective strategy for restricting abortion rights, however, it has its limits when it comes to attacking women’s ability to prevent pregnancy in the first place.

Not that there haven’t been attempts at using “pro-life” arguments to fight not just abortion but contraception. Some anti-choicers have floated the idea that contraception leads to abortion—claiming that women wouldn’t have abortions if they didn’t get it in their silly heads that they should be able to have sex for pleasure instead of procreation. (Never mind that women throughout history have attempted abortion by all sorts of means, whether their cultures had contraception or not.) A slightly more effective argument has been to claim, with no evidence in support, that popular, female-controlled hormonal birth control is the same thing as abortion. This hasn’t done much to convince anyone, but at least establishes a convoluted, disingenuous cover story about embryonic life that anti-choicers can hide behind while they attack contraception. But even then, it has limits, since while the “pill is abortion” argument can be used to attack hormonal contraception, even anti-choicers haven’t been bold enough to claim that condoms or other barrier methods are also abortion.

Then, just this year, it seems that the anti-choice movement came to a nationwide realization: Their past attempts to create some logical-sounding connection between contraception and fetal life were a waste of time and energy. Successful attacks on contraception don’t have to make sense or even look like they kind of sort of make sense if you look at them sideways while ignoring history, science, and true rationality. No, all they have to do is wave their hands around while yelling “abortion” and focus their attacks on those made vulnerable through economic duress, and they would have surprising success at separating women from the means to prevent pregnancy.

True, screaming “abortion” while attacking funding for contraception and other reproductive health services that aren’t abortion didn’t end up as successful as anti-choicers hoped when the Republicans nearly brought the federal government to a shutdown trying to defund Planned Parenthood. But overall, the entire debacle was a success for the anti-choice movement, because by the time it was all over, politicians who want to be viewed as social conservatives realized that it’s no longer enough to be anti-abortion. You must also be opposed to access to contraception for people deemed to be unworthy of sexual autonomy, namely, low-income women and young women.

What this means is that politicians in conservative areas have taken a hard right turn on contraception. The biggest example so far is definitely Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels blew off the “truce” he claimed to support in the culture wars to sign a bill that defunds family planning aid to his state, which will inevitably increase the state’s budget problems in myriad ways. If this were 2010, Daniels probably wouldn’t have done that or even have been put in that situation. In the past few months, however, the last tentacle attached to the concept of attaching anti-choice lies to some semblance of truth has been released, and any politician who doesn’t want to be labeled “pro-abortion” had better start hating on contraception, no matter how many abortions it may prevent.

The pressure to move towards a more radical anti-contraception stance is quickly becoming localized, which was entirely predictable, as conservatives tend to organize on a local and state level far more than liberals do. A reader from Tennessee alerted me to this story about the commissioners at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department in the state suddenly turning on family planning, canceling a half million dollar contract for family planning services in the area on the grounds of “abortion”, even though (say it with me now) none of the funding in question goes to abortion.

The reasoning for this is scattered and nonsensical. The all-male commissioner board claims some times that the problem is that abortions are being performed in the same buildings as contraception is distributed, and some times they claim that contraception is abortion. Because of this ridiculous inability to even pretend like they’re making sense, the board has tabled the debate until this Wednesday, but it’s not looking good for the women of Chattanooga-Hamilton County who rely on subsides to pay for birth control and other forms of non-abortion reproductive health care. The arguments for cutting the funding probably won’t get any more coherent, nor will the politicians pushing them likely bother to do anything crazy like educate themselves on the realities of women’s health care before condemning it all as abortion. They don’t need to anymore; anti-choicers who are calling the shots don’t care what kind of hand-waving you employ, so long as the goal of cutting off women’s access to contraception is achieved.

Unfortunately, barring some miraculous turn of events in the courts that shut this all down, we can probably expect to see more of this on the state and local level in conservative areas. A switch has been flipped in the conservative movement, and it’s not enough anymore to simply oppose abortion rights anymore, but to move even more radically in a direction of denying women any right to control their bodies whatsoever.

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  • joan2

    Amanda, the crux of the matter in Hamilton County is that the County Commissioners don’t know the difference between Plan B emergency contraception and the abortion pill. Because they conflated the two, some of the commissioners actually questioned whether the county health department was doing abortions in its health clinics! Actually, there is not any abortion provider at all in Hamilton County, TN, something that a candidate for governor from that county bragged about in a debate last year. 

    Until more women get involved in politics and run for office at all levels of government, we’ll see this same kind of ignorance and misogyny all around the country.  Men in government will never serve women’s interests. That’s obvious to me now.

  • crowepps

    There has been an intense and on-going propaganda effort to promote confusion between RU-486 and Plan B, funded by those who want to eliminate BOTH abortion and contraception.  Many women are equally confused not only about their being two different drugs, but about the mechanism by which each works, because there are organizations out there ACTIVELY PROMOTING the confusion.

  • broodstock

    Getting more women in politics won’t exactly ensure that women’s rights and interests are protected, though.

     

  • squirrely-girl

    Summary - http://ncronline.org/news/catholic-journal-says-plan-b-does-not-cause-abortions

     

    Links to the actual journal articles - http://www.chausa.org/subjectindex.aspx?year=2010#letter-index-Reproductive Issues

     

     

    Seriously, if even the Catholic Health Association can figure this out… :/

  • equalist

    It’s not just a matter of getting more women involved in politics, but a matter of getting more pro choice women involved in politics.  Bringing in another Palin or Christine O’Donnell would be just as bad if not worse than getting in more old men in office.

  • equalist

    It’s not just a matter of getting more women involved in politics, but a matter of getting more pro choice women involved in politics.  Bringing in another Palin or Christine O’Donnell would be just as bad if not worse than getting in more old men in office.

  • prochoiceferret

    Getting more women in politics won’t exactly ensure that women’s rights and interests are protected, though.

     

    It’s more of a necessary, but not sufficient condition. Kind of like how sending out invitations won’t ensure that the party’s going to be awesome, but if you don’t do it…

  • crowepps

    Sister Keenan has been whipped back into line.  Having actual education and scientific knowledge about how the body works, how medicine works, how reproduction works, none of that matters, because the really IMPORTANT thing is truckling under to the authority of someone whose education has been in philosophy, and who doesn’ t necessarily know any science of medicine, but who is absolutely sure of one thing, the only reason God would make a creature as debased and corrupt as a women is for men to enslave them as breeders!

     

    In the wake of public spats between the Catholic hierarchy and health care executives, the Catholic Health Association publicly acknowledged that bishops — not doctors or hospital ethicists — have the final say on questions of medical morality.

    Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/news/2011/01/catholic-hospitals-bishops-rea.php#ixzz1MXrk5q74

     

     

  • prochoiceferret

    Dolan said the CHA and the bishops should now work together for legislation that would ensure no federal money is used for elective abortions and to strengthen conscience protections for Catholic health care workers.

     

    I have a better idea for Dolan: Legislation that would ensure no federal money is used for religiously-driven health care that puts women’s lives at risk, and protections for those who do not want their health compromised by the whims of religious busybodies.

  • justcommonsense

    Women have been carrying the burden of battling the small vocal and increasingly effective minority of citizens who seek to eliminate reproductive freedom, but men have as much at stake as women do.

    It takes a woman and a man to produce a pregnancy. In the DNA era, men are held financially and socially accountable for their children — planned or unplanned. If contraception becomes more diffficult to obtain or illegal, millions of men will  face the responsibility for co-parenting unplanned children. It won’t take long after birth control gets taken away for a massive increase in unplanned fatherhood to begin — only nine months — followed by a lifetime of unwanted responsibility.

    Men, it’s crunch time — you have got to get in the game to protect reproductive freedom. How about a separate wing of Planned Parenthood called Planned Fatherhood?

  • crowepps

    I’m a citizen, I’m a taxpayer, I’m a voter.  It’s perfectly okay with ME if they use some of the money they get from ME for abortions.  SO far as I’m aware, the priests and bishops of the Catholic Church aren’t necessarily citizens, aren’t necessarily voters, and DEFINITELY don’ t pay taxes.  What business is it of NON-taxpayers what happens to taxpayers’ money?

     

    As for “strengthening conscience protections for Catholic health care workers”, I though that’s what they just obliterated?  Catholic health care workers no longer have freedom of conscience but instead have to OBEY the orders of the bishops no matter what their own conscience suggests.

     

    I’ll believe the bishops have an interest in “conscience protections” when they stop threatening to fire ER doctors for telling rape victims about Plan B and how it’s available somewhere else.

  • joan2

    The men I know support contraception but are a little fuzzy on the facts. They aren’t sure what Plan B is or how it works and how it’s different from the abortion pill. One very pro-choice man once told me he thought that abortions caused infertility. These guys are well-meaning, but they’ve never been educated about the facts and I think sometimes they think it’s “women’s business” and that they don’t really need to know about it. Sad but true. However, they would have to pay child support for children born as a result of unplanned pregnancies, so you’d think they would be motivated to learn.

  • arekushieru

    Men are not on the financial hook for support during the time a woman is pregnant.  Women are just as much on the financial hook (if not more, due to comparatively lower income and the fact that they are granted custody the majority of the time) when there is an existing child.

  • arekushieru

    I would also like to add that these men will probably never attack condoms, at least ones used by men.  After all, that would be like attacking… GOD!

  • lgm

    Even more proof that it’s less about “protecting fetal life” and more about controlling sexual bodies (especially female bodies), relegating womenfolk to the role of breeders and baby machines, and keeping lower-income communities “in their place.”  It’s very easy to scapegoat lower-income women for being “drains on society” when you play an active role in maintaining the systems that keep them on public assistance.

    If these wingnuts were truly concerned about fetal life, they’d spend less of their time spreading anti-contraception propaganda and more time lobbying for better access to prenatal care.  Of course, who ever said the antis care about the child after it’s been born?

  • ack

    Well, the Catholic Church has certainly attacked condoms whenever they can. When it’s a HUUUUUUUGE deal to have your king say that it’s ok for people with AIDS to use condoms, you know you’ve spent a HUUUUUUUUGE amount of time attacking condoms.

     

    With Evangelicals and conservative Republicans, however, I think you probably have a point. It will be interesting to see what kind of restrictions they want to place on the male birth control pill. That is, if it’s on the market before I die.

  • arekushieru

    It took a lot of pressure to make the Pope say that, though….

  • ack

    Which, of course, is disgusting. And then when there was all that scuttlebutt about “Wait, did he really say that???? Is he agreeing with rational thought that condoms can prevent HIV/AIDS transmission?” was also disgusting. And there was all the weird stuff about whether he meant male prostitutes, or prostitutes in general, and then what they wound up with was weirdly progressive and acknowledged other genders than man/woman.

     

    I was totes confused. And happy. And angry. And relieved. And irritated. And confused. Have I mentioned I was perplexed?

  • squirrely-girl

    Rich men will always be able to get abortions for the women in their lives… the men this will actually affect are the poor and middle class :(

  • deadgirlleah

    just a little update from here in chattanooga, yesterday the commission voted to accept the federal grant of just under $600k (with required match of 40k from the county) for family planning.  i like to think that their decision was influeneced (at least a little) by us protesters that greeted them at their front steps as they entered the building for the vote yesterday morning. 

  • deadgirlleah

    just a little update from here in chattanooga, yesterday the commission voted to accept the federal grant of just under $600k (with required match of 40k from the county) for family planning.  i like to think that their decision was influeneced (at least a little) by us protesters that greeted them at their front steps as they entered the building for the vote yesterday morning.