Friday, April 15, 2011

The House GOP’s Culture War on Contraceptive Services

Contraception works!  There is no doubt about it – full and easy access to contraceptive services reduces the rate of unintended pregnancies.  Therefore, access to contraception reduces the rate of abortion. 

Guttmacher Institute research shows that the two-thirds of U.S. women at risk of unintended pregnancy who use contraception consistently and correctly throughout the course of any given year account for only 5% of all unintended pregnancies.  The 19% of women at risk who use contraception but do so inconsistently account for 44% of all unintended pregnancies, while the 16% of women at risk who do not use contraception at all for a month or more during the year account for 52% of all unintended pregnancies.

So why do anti-choice politicians, and the House GOP in particular, continue their relentless attacks not only Planned Parenthood funds but on all Title X family planning services?

Sometimes it seems as though “…the Republican Party is doing everything in its power to ensure that there are more abortions than ever in the years to come.”

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently remarked that the GOP has “…been on an ‘ideological harangue’ against abortion, contraception, and family planning.”  She went on to say that the GOP needs, “…a lesson in the birds and bees…If you don't want to terminate a pregnancy, you might want to prevent it.  Family planning funding?  People really get this.  Does that give you any picture of how insulting their mentality is?"  And Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) recently said the GOP is “making it a pre-existing condition to be a woman."

And these GOP attacks on contraceptive access persist even though the “traditional” female base of the Republican Party believes in contraception despite their religious beliefs.  The Guttmacher Institute’s new report, Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use, reveals:

In real-life America, contraceptive use and strong religious beliefs are highly compatible.  Most sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant practice contraception, and most use highly effective methods like sterilization, the pill, or the IUD.  This is true for Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants, and it is true for Catholics, despite the Catholic hierarchy’s strenuous opposition to contraception.

The report’s analysis disproves the myth that “…contraceptive use runs counter to strongly held religious beliefs.”  More importantly, the data presented “…shows that opposition to contraception by the Catholic hierarchy and other socially conservative organizations is not reflected in the actual behaviors and health care needs of Catholic and Evangelical women.”

All women, regardless of their religious affiliations, have come to recognize that “…contraceptive use and the prevention of unintended pregnancy improves the health and social and economic well-being of women and their families…”

Guttmacher policy analyst Adam Sonfield emphasizes “[h]ealth policy should not serve as a proxy for religious dogma.”

So why would mostly male, anti-choice politicians want to restrict contraceptive access for the most vulnerable women throughout the nation?  Why would they defy the needs and demands of their own constituencies?  And how do these same politicians justify the hypocrisy of imposing these big government regulations on women’s health care choices, all the while advocating for a limited, small federal government in nearly every other aspect of governance? 

The Nation’s Melissa Harris-Perry recently explained “[t]oday’s conservatives… seek to define women’s citizenship as rooted in motherhood, and they are prepared to use state power to enforce this vision.”  Furthermore, the House GOP’s “…belt-tightening deficit reduction is entirely compatible with an older social agenda committed to pushing American women out of the public sphere… forcing women back into the domestic sphere.”  Simply put, a woman who cannot control her own “…fertility will be unable to compete for degrees or jobs with their male counterparts.”

Indeed, these same politicians are willing to impose this patriarchal social agenda at all costs, even if it means increasing the deficit. 

And in Michelle Goldberg’s 2009 book, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, she explains, “[a]ll over the planet, conflicts between tradition and modernity are being fought on the terrain of women's bodies…women's rights are perhaps the most visible sign of modernity and thus an obvious bête noire for flourishing fundamentalist movements.” 

An agenda that pushes against access to contraception for women who can least afford the cost goes far beyond a war on reproductive justice – it simply becomes an all out war on women’s social and economic equality.  When low-income women cannot control their reproductive choices they inevitably slide further and further into the economic abyss.  The House GOP and anti-women state legislatures are quite literally using women’s bodies as their weapon to constrain women’s autonomy. 

And even though the newly elected and emboldened Tea Party caucus claims that they are only seeking to impose fiscal austerity to rescue future generations from the debt crisis, they too will happily sacrifice that vision of fiscal conservatism to advance their extreme anti-choice ideology.  The mainstream media ignores this fact, just as they continue to bestow the moniker of fiscal responsibility upon the Tea Party without question.  

And just like a nightmare that you cannot shake, both the Senate and the House of Representatives had to once again vote on defunding Planned Parenthood yesterday.  Again?!  Didn’t we already settle this last Friday?

Well, not really.  Speaker John Boehner managed to extort a standalone vote on Planned Parenthood funding last Friday during the tense budget showdown with the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. 

And yes, the legislation passed in the House because of its GOP anti-choice majority and failed in the Senate because of the Democratic majority.  So, these political games will continue to be levied against women’s bodies in the never ending cynical belief that this vote has some relevance to deficit reduction. 

These deficit reduction lies are then perpetuated by an uncritical media that refuses to question the hypocrisy of these anti-choice politicians, seemingly in the name of objectivity.  Unfortunately, the most vulnerable and voiceless women in this country pay the price for that bogus definition of objectivity. 

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