2011: The War on Contraception

The year 2011 will be remembered by reproductive rights supporters as the year that the anti-choice movement really turned up the aggression, destroying the objections of moderate liberals who thought that pro-choice activists were being hysterical little ladies with our constant warnings about anti-choicers.

Up until late 2010, you could still find many a liberal who would argue that conservatives “don’t really” want to ban abortion, but instead dangle the promise of doing so in front of a bunch of religious zealots to get their votes. Now those liberals realize the religious zealots actually exert quite a bit of control, in both their direct control over the Republicans and their ability to make the Democrats jump around nervously.

Up through 2010, you could find many liberals who would laugh condescendingly when you would point out that the anti-choice movement not only wants to ban abortion, but has an eye out for destroying access to contraception, as well. No one is laughing at the supposedly hysterical ladies anymore. Turns out, we were right all along, and everyone knows it, including the White House.

There’s much that can be said about the escalating attacks on abortion access, which seemed especially over-the-top in a nation gripped by economic crisis that needs to be dealt with immediately. Irin Carmon did an excellent round-up of that story at Salon, and is on this week’s podcast talking about the same.  As she explains, many anti-choice efforts in that direction were surprisingly useless at the end of the day, since they’ve been tied up in court or, as in the case of the personhood amendment in Mississippi, simply voted down completely.

What I want to comment on for my last column of the year is the war on contraception, since 2011 was the year where it went from a series of skirmishes over contraception access to all-out war. Let’s be clear; anti-choice activists have always opposed contraception. But they were always wary of being outed to the public at large as anti-contraception, which meant that their attempts to discourage the use of it were somewhat stymied.

Under the Bush administration, they scored some victories by mandating anti-contraception propaganda (misleadingly called “abstinence-only education”) in schools, preventing emergency contraception from being sold over-the-counter without age restrictions, and defunding international spending on family planning that had nothing to do with abortion. Two of those victories have turned to losses. Abstinence-only especially turned out to be a joke; while anti-choicers were able to secure an apparently much-desired uptick in the teen pregnancy rate, it seems like it was mostly a blip in what is a longer trend of teenagers being more responsible about contraceptive use. It also seemed, until very recently, that anti-choicers would also lose on emergency contraception.

The election of Obama and the rollback of anti-contraception propaganda, however, seems to have set the anti-choice movement off. Even though most of them will still deflect if asked directly in mainstream media if they oppose contraception, they basically stopped trying so hard to manage mainstream perceptions of themselves as somehow just great lovers of fetal life, and are coming out with their anti-sex, misogynist agenda. The word “abortion” gets thrown around a lot, but the actions of the anti-choice movement this year made it crystal clear that it’s not about abortion, but about punishing women who have sex, full stop. Here’s a list of examples of how:

1) The Planned Parenthood federal budget stand-off. When House Republicans threatened a government shutdown if Title X funding for contraception and reproductive health services wasn’t stripped from the budget, the word “abortion” was tossed around a lot. Maybe some fools bought that story, but for most of us it was obvious that it couldn’t be about abortion. After all, no Title X funds can go to abortion services. It was clearly an attack on contraception access for those who couldn’t pay out of pocket, fitting with previous anti-choice hostility towards contraception.

2) The defunding of family planning clinics on a state level. House Republicans may have lost the funding battle on a federal level, but there’s been much more success depriving women of access to contraceptives and related services on a state level. For instance, under Rick Perry’s leadership, Texas has been so successful in stripping funding from family planning clinics that the state can expect to see a 22 percent increase in its abortion rate. Other anti-choice-controlled states are making the move to dramatically increase the unintended pregnancy rate, with Wisconsin adding cancer screenings to the list of subsidized services they are stripping from women of the state.  Sure, all these moves will dramatically increase the amount of money the states have to dish out for Medicaid, but women are punished for having sex with unintended pregnancies and cancer, which is all that matters to the anti-choice movement.

3) Personhood amendments. Mississippi very nearly passed an amendment that would define fertilized eggs as persons in their state, which would be an effective ban on abortion, IVF, stem cell research, and providing many forms of emergency medical assistance to pregnant women. Anti-choicers also clearly hoped it could be used to ban the pill, even though the only demonstrable mechanism that the pill uses to prevent pregnancy is to suppress ovulation. The amendment didn’t pass, but anti-choicers managed to get many news anchors, pundits, and even feminists to erroneously claim that the pill works by killing fertilized eggs. (All available evidence shows that it works by suppressing ovulation, and the possibility that it may make it slightly more likely for an egg not to implant than usual is speculation.) Getting that misinformation into the public was a huge rhetorical victory for those who have an eye out for banning female-controlled contraception, and returning control over women’s bodies to men.

4) The open fight over the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine couldn’t have less to do with fetal life, embryonic life, or even the life of fertilized eggs. But since those things don’t really matter to the anti-choice movement–which is primarily motivated by the desire to punish women who have sex–the HPV vaccine was resisted by anti-choice activists from the get-go. This war has been going on mainly out of the  view of the mainstream media, until 2011, when Rick Perry’s competition for the Republican nomination decided to make an issue out of his previous support for the vaccine. Michele Bachmann particularly made a giant fuss over the supposed evils of letting the sexually- active avoid death from cervical cancer. While the vaccine isn’t contraception, the controversy was yet another example of how anti-choicers are dispensing with the bad faith arguments about “life,” and openly fighting any tool women can use to be safe while being sexually active.

5) The fight over insurance coverage of contraception. In 2011, the Obama administration decided to add contraception to the list of preventive services that will eventually be covered fully without a co-pay by insurance companies. Naturally, this caused a fight with anti-choice activists, who are now looking for ways to chip away at the decision by carving out exemptions for Catholic-run universities and hospitals. (Who are required to cover contraception by the federal government anyway.) This fight couldn’t have less to do with “abortion”, but is just about maximizing the number of women who get pregnant against their will by making contraception needlessly expensive.

6) The Plan B debacle. Anti-choice activists lost most of their battles, except for the state-level destruction of access to contraception. However, they learned as the year wound down that persistence pays off: The Obama administration handed them an enormous victory when HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA’s decision to allow Plan B to be sold over-the-counter without age restrictions. By keeping Plan B out of the hands of minors, especially those in consensual and age-appropriate relationships, and by making it much harder for women of all ages to get it, the administration helped the anti-choice movement in its goal of keeping this country’s unintended pregnancy rate sky high. Sure, that also means our abortion rate continues to be sky-high, but as this year has definitively shown, the anti-choice movement doesn’t care about preventing a single abortion, if doing so would get in the way of punishing women for having sex.

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  • donnag

    People like us who pay a lot of attention to reproductive issues have known they want full sexual totalitarianism over women for a long time but I’m still encountering a shocking level of cluelessness among people I figure would know better.  My bf’s extremely intelligent and very well informed brother recently used the “Republicans will never ban abortion because it is too politically useful to them” cliche on me.  My jaw dropped and when I recovered I stammered a few things about how abortion is unavailable in 85% counties in the US and how 5 of the 7 Planned Parenthoods in Arizona had to stop providing abortions this year because of intrusive laws passed by our GOP majority legislature.  He literally waved me away with his hand and repeated the cliche.   

  • crowepps

    Now they can instead demonize birth control and the incredible sluttitude of women who *gasp* have sex when they don’t want to be mommies, and talk up how if women would STAY HOME with the children like they are SUPPOSED to, there would be plenty of jobs for men.


    I understand the frustration people are feeling with Obama and his advisors who believe we don’t have anywhere else to turn.  Unfortunately, they’re right.  Obama ignores women’s issues and figures women will be satisfied with whatever leftovers are available once the men are happy.  Republicans are promoting the agenda of the Evangelical Right, the Mormons and the Catholics, organizations which claim the right to kill women in order to *save* them.

  • colleen

    The Third Way Democrats are/have been trying to make contraception an issue (by not defending such basic and extremely popular rights) in order to present their sorry, mealy mouthed selves as defenders of women while simultaneously doing their best to undermine the rights of every sexually active woman in the country . Same thing with medicare,SS, medicaid and so on except, of course, those changes affect everyone directly. Remember when Obama was first elected he promised a WH women’s advisory council?  If such a thing exists the council has been remarkably silent.

    Right now the DSCC is fundraising under the “Save Medicare” banner while Ron Wyden joins forces with the ambitious Rep Ryan to achieve the exact opposite goal. The Dems aren’t weak or stupid. they understand exactly what they are doing and what they are doing, along with the equally vile and slightly more insane Republicans is make life as comfortable as possible for the upper 1% at the expense of the rest of us. We no longer have a representative Democracy and NONE of this would have happened without the willing and eager collaboration of ‘New’ Democrats.


  • wahyusamputra

    The Lori Berenson temporary return to her native US –


    – makes a useful example and test case for all this.

    It’s easy enough to say Alan Garcia (president of Peru) should be ashamed of himself, but that’s something it’s not easy to get the dominant males to do, especially if political advantage is involved. Even her temporary husband got his pound of flesh.

    Wouldn’t it be great if this heroic lady could actually stay with her son in her native New York and open a bakery as she’d like to?

    Very useful and life affirming for New Yorkers, too, as food gets scarcer and well over half of us are reduced to poverty, food stamps, and losing our homes.

    Mind you, she’d have to look out for some traps just signed into law. Handing out free bread to homeless hungry, if she were to do that, as well she might, may qualify as ‘supporting terrorism’ under new legislation; after all, helping a left wing group to rent a house made her a terrorist in the first place, when, unknown to her, they stored arms there. Being homeless is already a criminal offense in some US states.

    Women are stronger than men, Lord be thanked, and usually more decent, too. Elizabeth Warren’d make a superb president, too, unlike Howdy Doody.

  • quix

    Abortion is basically killing babies.  If we want to legalize murder, ok….

  • freetobe

    if you are against killing fertilized eggs you call humans or persons then you must absolutely end all wars which kill humans and end the death penalty otherwise you are simply huge hypocrites which I think you are no I know you are because you will never end the wars or the death penalty will you?.

    No this is about controlling women from having sex,from having jobs, heck from having a LIFE.


    This is a farce by the the anti-choicers if you cared about all those unborn person’s who by the way may be gay/lesbians or god forbid pro-choice pot smoking , anti God, anti-religion humans you would also make sure that AFTER they are born every one of them has food shelter health care,clothes and the right to work whether they are women,blacks,hispanics,gay lesbians,mentally retarded etc. BUT YOU HAVE ALL PROVED THAT YOU COULD CARE LESS ABOUT ALREADY BORN HUMAN BEINGS and let me also add that the female fetuses cannot possibly be whole humans in utero because the female they are sucking the life out of is not- according to what you want to do to women (take their right to life away the right to life they choose to live by!!)




  • crowepps

    You sure must have hated your mother.

  • marellus

    You fight the fundamentalism of today with another brand of fundamentalism. The fact is that the dominant dogma of the religious right is Arminianism, which basicly teaches its adherents that salvation is earned, that salvation can be lost, that faith+works = heaven. Wrong. The Reformation started by Luther taught that FAITH ALONE guarantees salvation. As to how this can be used in latterday America, I’m sure there are ways.

  • crowepps

    Keeping in mind, we’re not talking about facts or law or science or anything tangible at all but instead about theology, people’s GUESSES about supernatural things and how they would work, and there’s no evidence that either Arminianism or Predestination is actually true at all, and both ideas could actually be totally wrong and something else entirely could be THE TRUTH, like Buddhism.

    Which means it’s pretty silly to advocate that laws be passed that FORCE total strangers to comport themselves in accordance with either set of beliefs, and people should be free to reject BOTH kinds of authoritarian fundamentalism altogether and make their own decisions without strangers who insist they know what God Is and what God Thinks butting into their business and telling them what to do.

  • marellus

    I agree with you on the separation of Church and State. As to the truth or falsity of the two mentioned branches of Protestantism, I have committed myself. And yes, it’s a nonnegotiable for me.

    And for me also, the pitfalls and excesses of Arminianism is a glaring and deeply personal source of discontent. You are aware of falsus unum, falsus omnibus aren’t you ?

    Does this mean that I’m going to smite you with cunning theological arguments ? No. But in the event that you should take religion seriously, I humbly beseech you to stay away from Arminianism. They’re all bastards …    



  • crowepps

    The problem with religions is that while each may be pure at its origin, as soon as the power structure coopts them, theologians adjust them so they will continue to allow one group of people an advantage at the expense of another group.

    A useful rule of thumb is any religion is demonstrably false which asks outright for cash, since a True Religion and its adherents would have all necessary material things provided by their satisfied Heavenly Sponsor before they were needed, and a True Religion would be so psychologically attractive that it tenets wouldn’t need enforcing, because people would voluntarily follow them.

  • marellus

    You’re right … now go and tell that to them Fundamentalists !!! And leave your wallet at home will ya … and good luck … 

  • jmp290

    I too often pointed out that it was not just abortiion that these

    right wing crazies were and are against.

    I have been one of those hysterical middle aged guys for several years.